Rob Barnett, b. 1953, Birmingham, UK. Solicitor in UK local government – now retired. Brought up in Torquay, Devon. After eight years at Plymouth (1978-1986) moved to Western Isles, Scotland (1986-1998) and finally Halton Borough Council in the NW of England. Lives with his wife Chris in the North-West of England. Two grown-up children both away from home now; one living in Sussex; the other near Warrington.
Rob does not come from a musical family, has no technical musical training and cannot play an instrument. Such knowledge as he has comes from a delight in listening to music, a questing attitude and many formative years of exchanging recordings with contacts and friends in the USA, Scandinavia and the UK. Add to this reading such fine magazines as Records and Recordings (long defunct), Gramophone (now a very different voice from its glory days in the 1960s and 1970s) and Fanfare (still going strong and still well worth reading) and following BBC Radio 3.
His disorganised collection of CDs, LPs and cassettes continues to be a source of pleasure, frustration, stimulation and knowledge. Editing all the classical CD and DVD reviews for MusicWeb International makes substantial inroads into his own reviewing and listening time. This also provides further opportunities to learn from, agree and disagree with the site's reviewers whose reviews come in to his mailbox every day. Laments the passing of Robert Simpson's 1970s and 1980s radio series ‘The Innocent Ear’ when Simpson would play recordings of pieces and only identify them after the music had ended. Recalls the pleasure of discovering Rubbra Symphony 1 and the symphonies of contemporaries of Mozart and Beethoven in this way.
Has spent far too little time attending real concerts - perhaps a feature of living in the South-West and then in the far North-West of Scotland. With the profusion of fine unusual repertoire covered here in the North-West of England often by highly skilled community orchestras and by the BBCPO and RLPO he has attended more concerts since 1998 than in all the previous two decades. Memorable among these are the Stockport Symphony Orchestra's Malcolm Arnold Symphony 5 (extremely moving); RLPO/Pešek's Asrael in Symphony Hall, Mark Elder's Bax Spring Fire at the RAH, Finzi's Clarinet Concerto at Buxton and then Stockport with the redoubtable Geoffrey Smith, Moeran's Symphony with the Sheffield Symphony Orchestra and John Longstaff – a conductor who should be on the international stage - and Bax Symphonies 1 and 6 (Handley/BBCPO, Manchester).
Rob came to classical music not via Beethoven, Brahms and Bach. Introduced during his technical college years in 1969-71 via a friend's record collection of Janácek, Stravinsky, Sibelius, Tchaikovsky, Martinu, Bax and Vaughan Williams. Key works from that era included: Janácek Sinfonietta and Glagolitic Mass; Stravinsky The Rite and Firebird; Sibelius Tapiola, Symphony No. 5, Martinu Symphony No. 4; Bax Symphony No. 5; RVW Tallis Fantasia and Symphonies 5 and 6, Brahms Symphony 3 and Piano Concerto 2, Rachmaninov Symphonic Dances (Kondrashin), Tchaikovsky Symphony 4, Manfred and Francesca da Rimini. Believes that people with the spark of interest in or curiosity about classical music should not be afraid of going direct to the more unusual repertoire rather than feeling they must start with Bach, Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven and work their way through. MusicWeb International should play its part in making recommendations both of performances and repertoire. Unusual linkages between works can often lead to welcome discoveries.
Rob has been a member of British Music Society (BMS) since 1981 shortly after the Society was founded. He was editor of the quarterly BMS newsletter from 1995 to 2012 after a one year stint as editor of the annual BMS journal. He is a holder of the Society’s Berkeley Medal.
He has been an enthusiast for fine neglected music since the early 1970s. Notable interests: 20th century orchestral romantics: USA, Scandinavia (just listen to the magically poised opening bars of Madetoja's Symphony No. 3), Europe and Australasia, USSR/Russia, British.
Rates the wildly imaginative music of Arnold Bax very highly on an international stage. Bax's best works (Piano Quintet, Symphony No. 6, November Woods, Winter Legends) have a desperate beauty and crushing emotional impact paralleled by that of very few composers of any era.
Granville Bantock is also a special interest - among many others. Bantock's Omar Khayyam (soloists, chorus, orchestra) is a magnificent tapestry of music and philosophy. Bantock's similarly-specified Song of Songs is also likely to yield great rewards. Both Bantock's red-blooded fantasy and lyrical style leaves the staid, lachrymose and somewhat mournful glories of Gerontius in the gloomiest of shades. There is a 1979 BBC tape of the complete Omar conducted by Norman Del Mar and more recently Chandos have issued the work almost complete.
Cannot understand why BBC Radio 3 ignores (or largely ignores) so much fine orchestral music (Hovhaness, Braga Santos, Pettersson, Nystroem, Schuman, Marx, Goossens) but nevertheless cherishes the service. The BBC Proms programme remains a history of missed opportunities: when for example will we get a Roy Harris Symphony other than No. 3 or Franz Schmidt's Second Symphony instead of the standard fare?
Other musical pleasures include the operas and musicals of Stephen Sondheim (outstanding among these are Sweeney Todd, Into the Woods and Passion), the film music of Herrmann, Waxman, Friedhofer and Korngold, the music of Capercaillie, Granuaile by Shaun Davey, The Chieftains (do try to hear their Mná na h-Éireann - The Women of Ireland) and the modern popular Celtic revivals in the Gaelic periphery. One of these days he hopes to see issued a recording of Eddie McGuire's magical arrangements for soprano and orchestra of five Gaelic folk-songs. Already enthralled by Canteloube's Songs of the Auvergne? - then the McGuire is a delight in waiting and (thank God!) not a hint of tartan, kilts or shortcake about it.
Enjoys attempting reviews of CDs ignored or treated with scant attention by the major review magazines. Still learning. Still wanting to learn.
Particularly welcomes reviews written in a style accessible to the beginner yet with enough insight and comparative knowledge to inform, entertain and encourage the practised hand.
Rob recommends the following pieces of music and would be happy to make and receive other recommendations if you contact him:-
Marx: Castelli Romana (piano and orchestra) and the extravagantly luxuriant HerbstSymphonie – the latter awaiting its first recording
Karol Szymanowski's Harnasie (full version) - best heard in the version by Rowicki
Joseph Holbrooke's tone poem Ulalume, Violin Concerto and the other Poe-based tone poems of the 1930s. Rob spent years researching this composer.
Rutland Boughton's Hardy opera The Queen of Cornwall. The Immortal Hour is pallid by comparison - this is a blazing masterpiece and might be seen as an example of Boughton as the British-Celtic Puccini.
Othmar Schoeck's Violin Concerto and the atmospherically moonlit Sommernacht for strings. I do wish that Jecklin would issue their 12 CD set of his songs in a single box. Christopher Walton’s Schoeck biography is a magnificent achievement.
Josef Suk's Asrael Symphony and War Triptych (Talich for Asrael and Klima for the War Triptych on Supraphon)
Arthur Benjamin's Symphony (best heard in the Lyrita version) and the Romantic Fantasy for violin, viola and orchestra – if only someone would get permission to issue the PBS broadcast Philadelphia version of the Fantasy with the Pasquale brothers as soloists! Truly awesome!
Janis Ivanovs Violin Concerto (Campion CD). Irresistible.
Karlowicz Violin Concerto (various versions)
Prokofiev Violin Concerto No. 1 (Szigeti/Beecham)
Sibelius Symphony No. 7 (Mravinsky)
Prokofiev Symphony No. 7, Romeo and Juliet
Uuno Klami: Psalmus (Finlandia)
Janácek Sinfonietta (Serebrier - Reference Recordings)
Joly Braga Santos Symphony No. 4 (Portusom and Marco Polo CDs); the first three symphonies are pretty good too.
Edgar Bainton's Third Symphony - a glimmeringly visionary work once recorded by the Australian BROLGA LP label and now in a fresh recording by Dutton
Allan Pettersson Symphony No. 7 (Dorati) and Symphony No. 9 – would that someone would reissue those 1970s Philips LPs of the version conducted by Sergio Comissiona.
Leevi Madetoja Symphony No. 3 (Warner Apex - the best version - conducted by Paavo Rautio but the latest on by Storgards on Ondine is extremely good)
Valentin Silvestrov Symphony No 5 (BMG Melodiya)
Miaskovsky Symphonies (all of them really but start with 5 conducted by Konstantin Ivanov then move on to 24 and 25 and then 21), and Violin Concerto
Kurt Atterburg: Three Interludes from Fanal – as yet unrecorded; Symphony 3, Concertos for cello, violin and piano
Gosta Nystroem Sinfonia del Mare (Swedish Society Discofil and Bis) and the opera Herr Arnes Penningar
Roy Harris Symphony 7 (Ormandy version on Albany)
William Schuman Symphony No. 3 (CBS Bernstein) and Violin Concerto (Zukofsky DG)
Eugene Goossens Symphonies 1 and 2 (ABC Classics and Chandos) – we also need recordings of the fascinating but lower key Phantasy Concerto for violin
Louis Glass Symphony No. 5 - you must hear this! (not the Marco Polo version) – a wonderful Danish Radio broadcast conducted by Schønwandt won me around. The Danacord version is better but lacking the inner light projected by Schønwandt.
Constant Lambert’s Music for Orchestra - now available on Dutton with the composer and on Lyrita with Norman Del Mar. You need to look past the pasty-faced title to this compactly expressed music that has a glorious symphonic-romantic tread.
Maurice Jacobson's The Hound of Heaven, for tenor, chorus and orchestra - one of the masterpieces of the British musical renaissance yet still unrecorded and very rarely performed
Robert Nathaniel Dett's 1930s oratorio The Ordering of Moses - this I have heard
Maurice Johnstone's Dover Beach and the superb orchestral rhapsody Tarn Hows (ASV).
And - Eric Fogg's gorgeous Sea-Sheen (now on Dutton).

Rob Barnett

May 2013


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