The new season’s programme has now been finalised and will soon be printed for distribution. You can see a copy of the brochure here ahead of publication. The committee has put together an excellent programme with two outside speakers and one, for the first time, from the Delius Society. We have one ‘live’ music evening as well as presentations on a wide range of topics from Society members themselves.
Meeting arrangements are as before and parking is easy. New members are always welcome – we’ve had several this year – and if you want to come along to an evening without commitment, there is a small fee of £3 to help with our expenses.
Existing members: if you can do anything to help promote events that would be appreciated.
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.
THE next meeting of the Society will be tonight, Monday, 18th April starting at 7:30 usual place. See the ‘Find us’ tab on the front page for a map or details if this will be your first visit. The presentation will be by Anthony Powell – no stranger to the Society – who will be taking about the conductor Sir Charles Mackerras and illustrating his talk with examples of his conducting.
Mackerras was one of the great polymath conductors of the 20th century, with interests that ranged from the operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan to the high opera of Wagner and Strauss. His rigour and empathy with both music and musicians, as well as his intellectual curiosity, earned acclaim and respect from across the musical world. Any performance directed by Mackerras – particularly one featuring Janacek – bore the imprimatur of unsurpassed authority.
In the 1960s he was at the forefront of the period instrument movement, uncovering the original intentions of composers such as Handel, Mozart and Beethoven, and bringing to audiences some of the first “authentic” performances to be heard in Britain. Of particular note was a production of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro at Sadler’s Wells in 1965 in which he controversially – and to some ridicule – reinstated the appoggiaturas and other ornamentation that would have been used in the 18th century.
The Society met for the last time before Christmas and listened to selections by members of their favourites. There was an extremely wide ranging and very interesting choice of music starting with a version of Ruslan and Ludmilla played by a horn ensemble. Other items included the prelude to Mascagni’s opera William Ratcliff demonstrating that he was not just a ‘one opera’ composer.
Among other presentations was a mono recording of Bach’s The Well Tempered Clavier. Bach composed these before the piano forte was invented so some modern renditions are not entirely faithful to the sort of sound he intended. This early recording by Edwin Fischer was perhaps truer to that. Also by Bach we heard an aria from St Matthew Passion where the alto and violin weave through the melody.
For Wagner lovers – and even for non-Wagner lovers – we heard the well known prelude to the Master Singers. A lighter touch was provided by Dudley Moore playing And the Same to You – a parody of Beethoven, performed at Beyond the Fringe.
Other pieces included:
Gustav Mahler’s Ruckertleider No 5 sung by Janet Baker
Beethoven’s Bagatelles (selection of)
Mozart’s Vedrai carino from Don Giovanni
Gerald Finzi’s In Terra Pax
an exceprt from Verdi’s Aida
the wonderful Fantasy in F Minor by Schubert
one of the songs from Four Last Songs by Strauss
and we finished with part of The Lark Ascending by Ralph Vaughan Williams.
So a fine end to the first half of the season and we wish all our readers a happy Christmas.
The new season starts off on February 2 with a fascinating presentation by Frida Backman of the Backman Trio who will be taking us through the process of making a CD from rehearsal to the finished thing. We look forward to seeing you then. Details of where we are on the home page. Please check back here nearer the time for any change to the arrangements.
Although the first two programmes this season have concentrated on more modern composers, Peter Curbishley took us back at the Society’s meeting on 20 October, to the 18th century with an erudite presentation cryptically named ‘Mozart and his Paper.’ It was based largely on the work of the late Alan Tyson. Although Mozart’s music is so well known there are still mysteries concerning his compositions that need to be explored.
We learned that at the time Mozart was composing, paper was so expensive that musicians were often unable to acquire more than limited supplies. It was still a craft based industry unchanged for 600 years. Samples varied widely and it is from the watermark of the paper that we know where an individual piece was written. This often provided insights into Mozart’s compositional process and showed that some compositions took time, often several years, before reaching fruition. The Hunt Quartet for example may have taken four years.
Other mysteries were then exposed. The Horn Concerto in D presents an enigma: did Mozart write the rondo or not? Although the greater part of the manuscript was found in Krakow, the rondo turned up later in St Petersburg, but in a different handwriting.
We heard an excerpt from the Paris Symphony and although this is the only Mozart symphony which survives from this time, there is a letter written to his father that mentions a second symphony, although there is no trace of it. There are two versions of the slow movement however and paper studies have revealed which was the final version.
The Piano Concerti provide further surprises he said. On examination of the manuscripts it appears that the first movement is often in a different handwriting from subsequent movements and on different paper. It now seems possible that Mozart would, from time to time, write a first movement and then await an opportunity – a commission perhaps – to write the remaining movements.
A popular and celebrated great composer, yes, but one who is full of surprises.