CONSTANT LAMBERT Summer's Last
Will & Testament; The Rio Grande; Aubade Heroique.
Sally Burgess (mezzo) William Shimell (baritone) Jack Gibbons (piano) Opera
North Chorus, English Northern Philharmonia/David Lloyd-Jones.
HYPERION CDA 66565 [75.00]
Hyperion have produced the premiere recording of Constant Lambert's Summer's
Last Will and Testament. Its appearance in the first ever commercial
recording in any medium is an important event. For years the piece has been
known, if at all, either by access to the score or by hearing off-air tapes
of the 1965 Sargent broadcast. More recently there was a very fine account
by Norman Del Mar with the BBC Concert Orchestra, Brighton Festival Chorus
and the baritone David Wilson-Johnson (10 May 1986). The new CD also offers
sparkling performances of his most famous piece together with a highly
atmospheric short orchestral piece.
Lambert's conducting and other activities held him back from producing the
number of works generated by Bax, Vaughan Williams and many of the other
famous names who enjoyed the benefits of private means. His catalogue includes
only twenty or so mature works. Looking back on this numerically small crop
in 1949, Lambert observed to Frederick Ashton: "I like Summer's Last Will
and Testament the best of all my work".
The piece was written between Summer 1932 and Winter 1935. It is too easily
forgotten that Lambert completed this major work when he was only thirty.
There was no commission and he knew that the work would have to labour hard
for performances. Probably the prospect of a recording did not even occur
to him.. The piece received its first performance conducted by the composer
at the Queen's Hall on 29 January 1936. The baritone soloist was Roy Henderson
with the Philharmonic Choir and the BBCSO. As inimical fate would have it
King George V had died only nine days before the concert. The melancholy
and keenly felt sense of loss, passing time and wheeling seasons which pervade
the Lambert piece were out of keeping with the national mood of formal and
ceremonial mourning. The concert was sparsely attended and the critics were
Of those who did attend many would have been more familiar with the ebullience
of Rio Grande rather than the darker moods and introspection of the
1930 Piano Concerto. Yet it was the introverted and darker Lambert persona
which was revealed across a large time span (53 minutes) with major forces.
The work is occasionally lit by flashes of the dynamic Lambert but the overall
sound-signature is one of sadness, the charnel house and fear of the plague
which prompted Thomas Nashe to write the words which are given to the baritone
in the final movement: "Adieu, Farewell Earth's bliss."
British music seems always to have drawn strength from this sense of passing
time and loss. Examples are plentiful including, in their very different
ways, Bliss's Morning Heroes, Howells' Hymnus Paradisi, Finzi's
Intimations of Immortality and Bantock's Omar Khayyam.
Lambert explores his subject as if it were an essay. He poses questions,
answers them, explains and carries one along with the flow of the argument.
An emotional charge is built up for a release which comes gradually, crackling
and flashing with a dazzling emotional intensity. I hope the parallel is
not too unusual but there is something of the intensity of Allan Pettersson
in this music. Try the Seventh Symphony if you would like an illustration.
Lambert has a great gift for high yearning tunes which continue to unwind
when you expect them to run out of stamina. His orchestral essay, Music
for Orchestra is dominated by such a melody and one of a similar cast
opens Summer's Last Will and it is the shade of this melody which
passes momentarily across the landscape as the work concludes.
Also on the record are The Rio Grande a work with which most members
will be familiar and which here receives a fine performance, by turns catching
all the glitter and yearning concentrated in, this, the most famous of Lambert's
works. There is also the Aubade Héroïque, a short orchestral
'morning song' written with recollections of the Sadler's Wells ballet troupe's
narrow escape from Holland as Nazi paratroopers spear-headed the invasion
of that country. The company lost much of its set material and costumes.
The piece is dedicated to Vaughan Williams and like the Merchant Seamen
Suite carries more than a few echoes of that composer.
The Hyperion's Ted Perry feels that it is a pretty stunning record all round
and the engineer Tony Faulkner considers it one of his best ever recordings.
Certainly the recording is very natural with none of the tiring neon glow
on the high strings which we have come to expect from some other companies.
The sound has plenty of impact when necessary. The insert essay by the late
Christopher Palmer is very fine indeed as we came to expect from this writer.
The piece is well researched, detailed and offers insights and observations
that repay more than a single reading.
There is enough Lambert material for another generously filled and rewarding
CD. Perhaps Hyperion will now look at the other peaks in the Lambert worklist.
Begging for CD treatment now that Tiresias has been recorded is The Bird
Actors Overture (1952, 4'), Music for Orchestra (1927, dedicated
to Berners, c 12'), Elegiac Blues (1927, 2'), Dirge from Cymbeline
(1940, dedicated to Patrick Hadley, 7') and Merchant Seamen Suite
(17' in the five movement version). To this could be added Patrick Hadley's
tone poem Kinder Scout.
While we wait for more, now is the time to relish the major work on this
disc, a true classic of the period. For all its years in the wilderness it
stands fresh and piercingly poignant as the day it was written.
Bereavement and loss figure eventually in all our lives. Lambert speaks
eloquently and poetically of these experiences and in doing so leaves us
with a work which we can all take to our hearts. Hyperion are to be thanked.
For those who have not yet purchased the disc, have no fears. This is eminently
accessible and rewarding listening. The thrill of discovery awaits you.