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January - March
2016

English Music: Ian Venables at Sixty

Michael Bywater

Ian Venables

It was not exactly love at first sight when Oscar Adolf Hermann Schmitz (1873 – 1931) turned his attention to England, but more of a slowly-ripening affection. This itself was more encouraging than one might have expected from this upper-class Hessian Homburger turned Frankfurt BoBo (a term he coined in his near-unreadable novel Bourgeois Bohème).

Schmitz lived the life with gusto, trailing behind him a record (like the fathoms of chain around Marley's ghosts) a record of expulsions and sendings-down for lack of discipline, of dabblings in psychoanalysis, of Satanism, death-cults, sadism, amateur liturgy-making and (quite unironically) noise.

In 1904 (just seven years after the English, in what Macaulay called “one of their periodic fits of morality”, had seen Oscar Wilde off to two years’ hard labour, the ruin of his health and his life, a brief sad exile in France and a painful and premature death), Schmitz wrote, cheerily enough, that:

Je öfter man nach England kommt und je länger man verweilt, desto mehr findet man zu bewundern. (The more often you come to England and the longer you spend there, the more you find to admire.)

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The Cala Story

Cala Records

Paul Sarcich and Geoffrey Simon trace the development of this important independent classical label, celebrating a Silver Jubilee milestone in its development.

In 2015 Cala Records was able to celebrate its 25th Anniversary with the release of Cool Brass and Hot Brass, two spectacular albums derived from the label’s renowned London Sound recordings. As a small, privately-owned record label, Cala has survived the twists and turns of fate in the recording industry by focussing on its artistic commitment to Discovery and Rediscovery — a philosophy of offering the new with the familiar, or the familiar with a difference, combined with high production and artwork values.

The precursor to Cala Records was The Cala Series, a set of six CDs of well-known orchestral repertoire which conductor Geoffrey Simon recorded with the Philharmonia Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra and English Chamber Orchestra, and specially packaged for the legendary Christmas Catalogue of the Dallas-based luxury retailer, Neiman Marcus. The musical programmes took the form of live concerts—such as overture, concerto and symphony—for the enjoyment of the listener.

 

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Sally's Weekend Out

Robert Thompson

Stravinsky

Recording Stravinsky's Rite of Spring under the composer was a risky enterprise - down in no small part to an ancient, cracked contrabassoon called Sally.

I received the call at 10pm on December 30, 1959 that every aspiring classical musician in New York wants to get. As a bassoonist, I was thrilled:

‘This is Loren Glickman calling for Columbia Records. Can you be at 46th Street Studios tomorrow at 11, then at Carnegie the following two days for rehearsal and concerts, then the next two days at the St George Hotel in Brooklyn for recording?’

Wow. I tried to be calm. I said very coolly, ‘Let me check my calendar. I have something else, but I can clear it.’

‘You’ve got to have a contrabassoon,’ Glickman said. ‘We’re doing The Rite of Spring with Stravinsky conducting. In fact you will be second contrabassoon.’ Cool as hell, I lied: ‘Sure, I’ve got the instrument and my own part.’

I hung up in exhilarated panic: Stravinsky, paying work, recording, what a break!

Too bad I had no contrabassoon! The lowest of all instruments, seldom heard, usually pumping out modest bass sounds in a group, most unglamorous. Where could I get such a rare instrument right now?

 

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The Cantatas of Sergey Taneyev

Anastasia Belina-Johnson

Sergey Taneyev

We are pleased to published this centenary tribute to one of the greatest yet little-appreciated masters of Russian music as a consequence of a recent performance in London of the composer’s cantata Ioann Damaskin (John of Damascus).

2015 marked the centenary of the death of one of the most neglected Russian composers who lived and worked at an important time in Russian cultural history. Sergey Taneyev (1856-1915) was a significant figure in Russian music during the second half of the nineteenth century, but his importance as a performer, composer, theorist and pedagogue is hardly appreciated in the West.

A pupil of Nikolay Rubinstein and Tchaikovsky, and later a teacher of Rachmaninoff, Medtner, and Scriabin, Taneyev emerges as a link between these generations which is yet to be properly examined and evaluated. As Tchaikovsky's favourite student, he gradually became one of his most objective critics and closest friends, their friendship lasting until Tchaikovsky's death.

Taneyev often commented on Tchaikovsky's music, and in many cases his opinion was more important to the older composer than that of any other musician. Taneyev was a devout scholar of counterpoint and early music; a passionate promoter of Esperanto in Russia; a scholar of ancient Greek history and literature; an owner of brilliant mind always ready to fire a joke or a punt; a closet Wagnerian; and an object of Sof’ya Tolstaya’s unrequited love.

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Ronald Corp at 65 – a preview

Ronald Corp

As briefly mentioned in the Editorial in this issue, Musical Opinion will mark the significant birthdays of a number of British composers during 2016, one of whom is the multi-talented Ronald Corp, whose 65th birthday falls in January.

Ronald Corp is not only a composer of a wide range of music, but also a conductor of orchestral and choral groups, a choir trainer and music editor, as well as being an ordained priest in the Church of England.

We shall be carrying an extensive appreciation of Ronald Corp in our next issue. Among events this year marking his birthday, one of the most significant is a concert he is to conduct at the Royal Festival Hall on March 7th in aid of Help Musicians UIK, to be given by Rebecca Evans, soprano, with Roderick Williams, baritone, and the London Chorus, the New London Children’s Choir and the New London Orchestra.

Both the choirs and the orchestra appearing at this concert were founded by Ronald Corp. Following the launch of the New London Orchestra in January 1988, the acclaim of most senior critics was unanimous. Sir Nicholas Kenyon in The Observer wrote that it was ‘an impressive debut, and if one wondered why a new orchestra was needed at this moment, the answer was quickly given by the distinctive programme...and by the exceptionally well balanced and blended sound these young players produced under the direction of Ronald Corp.’ After the second concert in July 1988 Anthony Payne in The Independent said ‘any band of players that performs consistently as well as did the New London Orchestra ... automatically becomes indispensible.’

The programme on March 7th has a unifying thread of music inspired by the sea: the Four Sea Interludes from Britten’s Peter Grimes and Vaughan Williams’s Sea Symphony surround the world premiere of a new choral work by Ronald Corp – Behold, the sea – we shall be carrying a full report on this event in our April issue alongside, as noted, a fuller appreciation of this exceptional musician’s work, to whom we wish Many Happy Returns on January 4th.

 

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Three Rare Reissues on CD

John McCabe plays Grieg: I - the background

Monica McCabe writes: The story behind the reissue by Somm of my late husband John McCabe’s recording of Grieg’s Slåtter, Op. 72 is one of remarkable survival from the outset, including the survival of these Norwegian Peasant Dances themselves.

In Norway’s inhospitable mountains and dales there was nevertheless a fund of marvellous folk music, for weddings and merrymaking, much of it played on the so-called Hardanger fiddle, but by the end of the 19th century this rich folk tradition was endangered. An elderly fiddle-player from Telemark, called Knut Dale, longed to preserve this music for posterity, but being unable to read or write music, he turned to the famous composer, Grieg for help. Grieg was somewhat taken aback by this request, apparently, but he passed it on to a young friend, Johan Halvorsen, who was an excellent violinist. After having painstakingly transcribed many of these dances, Halvorsen presented the material to Grieg, who found the works so valuable and original that he arranged them for piano.

 

The Great Léon Goossens – historic recordings and broadcasts by Léon Goossens

Léon Goossens

As with a select number of other instrumentalists of the time, Léon Goossens – like Segovia, Casals, Lionel Tertis as examples – was (if this is not the wrong word) instrumental in broadening the international appeal of the oboe, and through his artistry and recordings, inspired many composers to write for the instrument and many young people to take up the oboe.

He carried the family’s longevity gene, along with his harpist sisters Marie and Sidonie: their father, Eugène II, lived to the age of 91, Marie to 97 and Sidonie to 105; Léon lived to 90, but his brother, the conductor and composer Eugène III, died at the relatively early age of 69.

But Léon’s artistry was truly legendary: he was appointed principal oboe of Henry Wood’s Queen’s Hall Orchestra at the age of 15, and thereafter his artistry never wavered in its quality and, indeed, reliability.

 

Ormandy conducts Sibelius

It comes as a surprise that the Philadelphia Orchestra has never recorded a complete cycle of the Sibelius symphonies compared to fellow US city orchestras namely from Pittsburgh (Maazel), New York (Bernstein) and Boston (Colin Davis). This is compounded by the fact that two eminent Sibelians, Stokowski and Ormandy, presided over this orchestra for more than fifty years.

This newly issued set from Sony offers many of the stereo recordings Ormandy made of Sibelius’s works, both small and large, following his earlier mono recordings going as far back as his ultra-romantic view of the First Symphony (oh, those sliding strings!) made in 1935 with the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra.

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