We held our first member’s evening this season and it turned out to be excellent. A small, but perfectly formed selection of music was put forward and we heard a mixture of old favourites and some completely new pieces.
We started with a concerto in D by Johann Fasch a contemporary of Bach and Telemann. Not a composer we have heard played before I think so it was interesting to hear this.
This was followed by the familiar K393 Solfeggio and the Great Mass in c minor by Mozart. This was followed by some extracts from Mendelssohn’s Elijah.
A surprise addition was John Downland’s songs Go Crystal Tears, Mrs Winter’s Jump and I saw my Lady Weep. Forward in time to the romance from Berlioz’s Damnation of Faust which resulted in a considerable financial loss for the composer.
Finally, and perhaps to shake everyone up, we heard the Drunkard from Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. A rumbustious piece to finish the first half. This composition was banned from performance in Russia and led the composer to live in fear of his freedom.
After the break it was Darius Milhaud’s suite for alto sax Scaramouche.
This was followed by some songs which may have been played in Shakespeare’s plays presented from his own disc by Jeremy Barlow. This will merit a fuller presentation in future.
We finished with a live recording of Mahler’s symphony No 8 (final two sections) which rounded the meeting off wonderfully.
So we spanned the centuries and the styles and heard the new and the familiar.
The next meeting of Salisbury Recorded Music Society will be held tonight, Monday 5th March 2018 at 7.30pm in the usual venue when Jon Hampton will present: “Earth, Air, Fire and Water – An exploration of how the elements have inspired composers from Haydn to Mahler and beyond.”
Hope to see you there. Free parking and £3 to non-members
The Case for the Unfinished was the title of last nights presentation from Tony Powell. One might be forgiven for thinking this was about Schubert’s unfinished symphony but in fact it was about other composer’s unfinished works of which of course there are plenty. Attempts to add another movement to Schubert’s work have not been successful and indeed it is possible that what is left is indeed finished.
Tony instead started with a Night on a Bare Mountain by Mussorgsky. The final movement was changed by Rimsky Korsakov and this was played first. Then we heard the original version which was entirely different and a complete contrast. The point here was that finishing another composer’s work may be acceptable if it is in the spirit of the original.
Another famous unfinished work is the Requiem by Mozart and this was being feverishly composed as he was dying. It was famously finished by his pupil and sometime collaborator Süssmayr. There are many arguments about who wrote what bit of the work but nevertheless, there is sufficient of Mozart in the piece to make it a great work of art. The difference here is that the work was intended to be finished and Mozart was dictating ideas until his actual death. With Schubert on the other hand, we do not know of his intentions.
Bruckner’s ninth is usually played in its incomplete form but again, a lot of material was left – indeed a substantial number of sketches and completed elements – to enable an attempt to be made to create a final movement. We heard Sir Simon Rattle conducting a performance and he was quoted as saying that there was ‘more Bruckner in the final movement than there was of Mozart in the Requiem.’ It certainly sounded authentic although there were references to the 5th now and again.
It was a surprise to some present that Puccini did not finish Turandot but the opera was left 15 minutes or so short at his death. It was finished by Franco Alfano yet it is recognisably in the master’s hand.
After a long fallow period following the Great War, Elgar started work on his 3rd Symphony which he did not finish by the time of his death in 1934. From the surviving material the BBC asked Anthony Payne to finish it and he worked on the project for many years. The first performance was in 1998 conducted by Andrew Davies. The usual attribution is to both Elgar and Payne. We heard part of the 1st movement and most of the 2nd.
Finally, Mahler and the unfinished 10th. Mahler left a lot of notes and a ‘short score’ that is, not a fully orchestrated version. Mahler had discovered that his wife had been unfaithful and this added to the turmoil in his life. Initially his widow resisted attempts to finish and fully orchestrate the score but later relented. There were several attempts and many statements by musicians saying it shouldn’t be done. Deryck Cooke worked on the score and this was first performed in 1964. Alma Mahler had changed her mind once she had seen the finished work and heard a performance. We listened to one movement which was extremely ‘Mahler like’ in its sound and development.
This was a most interesting evening and shed light on the difficulties and problems of trying to finish another composer’s work. Composition is a highly individual activity and however many notes and sketches are left, what would have ultimately been produced can never be recreated. But if the attempts are honest to the original composer’s style and intentions, a worthwhile result can be achieved.
The last meeting of the Society was a presentation by Anthony Powell of the conducting of Sir Charles Mackerras illustrated by extracts from some of his recordings. Mackerras was born in Schenectady in USA to Australian parents but they returned to their home country when he was two to live in Sydney.
He was a precocious talent and wrote a piano concerto when he was 12. His parents were not convinced a musical life would be a viable profession so sent him to The King’s School with its focus on sport and discipline hoping that he would pursue a different career. It was not to be and at the age of 16 went to the New South Wales State Conservatorium of Music where he studied oboe, piano and composition.
At 19 he was the principal oboist with the ABC Sydney Orchestra. A few years later he sailed for England and began his career at the Saddlers Wells Theatre. He studied conducting with Vaclav Talich (pictured) in Prague and returned to resume his career at the English National Opera.
There then followed a distinguished career with a variety of famous orchestras including the BBC Concert Orchestra; Covent Garden; the Met and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. He was the first non Briton to conduct the BBCSO at the Proms.
Tony selected a wide range of his conducting and started with a piece by Sir Arthur Sullivan followed by a piece by Delius: Paris: the song of a great city first performed in 1899 in Germany and this recording with the Liverpool Philharmonic.
Mackerras had a great attachment to Czech music – indeed he spoke the language fluently – and we heard the Symphonic poem: the Noonday Witch by Dvorak. This was followed by an extract of the familiar Sinfonietta by Janacek.
The classics were not neglected and two movements from Mozart’s Symphony No. 32 in G major performed with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. Then it was Beethoven’s seventh followed by Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5. All these extracts illustrated the close attention to rhythm and pace which Mackerras had. This was particularly illustrated by an extract from Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, a piece of great energy and requiring great skill to keep the orchestra together. This was an electrifying performance.
To record Handel’s Messiah using no less than 26 oboes were needed – which is what the composer required – meant it had to be done at night finishing in the small hours. After the final scene of Janacek’s Jenufa we heard the final movement of Mahler’s Symphony No. 5, again with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchesta.
The range of this conductor’s performances was well illustrated and the pieces carefully chosen to give good examples of his style and ability. Sir Charles died in 2005. He had received many honour including a CBE; Medal of Merit from Czech Republic and was made Honorary President of Edinburgh International Festival Society.
Last nights meeting was a presentation by Anthony Powell in which he played music which he has enjoyed over his life. As we move into the electronic age, and increasingly people download their music from the internet, it is hard to remember that there are people who’s first experience was with 78s. For younger readers these are discs that rotated at 78 rpm. They didn’t last long and any piece of any length involved several disks and several trips to the turntable to turn them over.
The first piece was Beethoven’s Egmont overture which was a transcription from a 78 and was recorded by Toscanini. Typical of this conductor it was a very forthright performance and sounded good despite the fact it was mono and of some vintage.
Tony’s first LP (can we all not forget our first LP and the trip back from the shop to play it for the first time?) was Beethoven (again) 5th Symphony conducted by Bernard Haitink. This was a live recording at Birmingham and the audience burst into applause at the end of this thrilling piece.
Next was Mahler and the end of his Symphony No. 3 followed by Rimsky Korsakov and this was a version recorded from a Decca 7″ record which were popular around 40 or so years ago. Many of us took advantage of these budget priced discs.
Next we heard the finale of the thrilling Shostakovich Violin concerto. Alongside the music Anthony had brought in a collection of signed autographs of composers and conductors. Some he had acquired by writing to Russia at a time when this was an unusual thing to do.
A lifelong liking for the Late Quartets of Beethoven was illustrated by an extract from No 16 in F major. There are pieces that stay with you throughout your life and you never tire of them.
This was followed by the Sanctus from Berlioz’s Grande Messe Des Morts performed in St Paul’s cathedral and conducted by the late Sir Colin Davies a Berlioz specialist. A feature of the evening was the large preponderance of live recordings which, although sometimes less than perfect, do have a certain electricity to them which a studio recording can lack.
The rest of the programme included;
Robert Simpson’s Symphony No. 4
Beethoven’s Misa Solemnis
3rd movement from Thomas Adès’s Violin Concerto (2005)
two songs by Richard Strauss
and the evening finished – appropriately enough – with final part of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony No. conducted by Klaus Tenndstedt recorded in 1989
A most enjoyable evening and truly a Dance to the Time of Music.
Leonard Bernstein had many talents and at the last meeting of the Society three of them were on vivid display in a presentation by Alan Forshaw. First was his ability as a pianist was shown in a recording, made in 1946, of Ravel’s Concerto for Piano and Orchestra from which we heard the first movement. It is no surprise Bernstein liked this piece with its strong jazz influences and powerful rhythms. We also heard him play one of his own compositions, Seven Anniversaries recorded in 1947.
His second great skill was as a conductor for which he was in great demand. He was the principal conductor for the New York Philharmonic Orchestra for many years. Examples we heard included the second movement from Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with the NYPO with Bernstein conducting from the keyboard and also the Adagietto from Mahler’s 5th Symphony.
He was an accomplished composer in a wide range of genres. Few may of heard of his Clarinet Sonata for example, his first composition. More familiar perhaps is his Symphony No. 1 from which we heard the second movement with its strong rhythms and echoes of Stravinsky. We also heard part of his Symphony No. 2 for Piano and Orchestra both recordings with the NYPO.
He was a composer of operas and first was Trouble in Tahiti – an opera in seven scenes – from which we heard scene 2. Candide did not achieve critical acclaim unfortunately and had to wait two decades before it found a place in the repertoire again. West Side Story is undoubtedly his most successful work, loved the world over and was made into a film. Two extracts were played: Tonight performed by Jose Carreras and Kiri Te Kanawa, and Somewhere, in a performance conducted by Bernstein himself.
Alan explained that Bernstein was the son of a Ukrainian immigrant and it is perhaps worth reflecting on the enormous contribution east European and Russian immigrants made to the life of the United States. Not just musicians, but scientists, writers, mathematicians and in many other areas of cultural life. As the UK is struggling with the ‘threat’ of immigrants fleeing Syria and other war torn areas, it is worth remembering on the benefits that they can bring, as Bernstein did to the USA and musical life generally.
This was an accomplished presentation which gave an insight into the range of talents Bernstein had and the musical legacy he has left behind. A musical polymath indeed.
The next meeting of the Society is on Monday 5 October – usual time, usual place. It is entitled 1911 – New music of a sunset year and will be given by Barry Conaway. It will include music by Mahler, Delius, Sibelius, Elgar and Nielsen. We look forward to seeing you there.