The last weekend of MAy saw the fifth English Music Festival held over four days at Dorchester on Thames. The purpose of the Festival is to celebrate English and British composers – mostly tonal and mostly from the first half of the C20th – whose music has been forgotten, was never performed or recorded, or is generally unknown. This year’s Festival featured music by Parry, Capel Bond, Lambert, Rawsthorne, Sullivan, Bainton, Stanford, Bowen, Howells, as well as more famous names such as Elgar, Holst, Delius and Vaughan Williams.
The closing concert was of particular interest to me because it featured a world premiere of a choral work by Vaughan Williams, a setting of Swinburne’s famous poem ‘The Garden of Proserpine’. I wrote an article on this piece for the Vaughan Williams Society Journal and an extract from it featured on the CD sleeve for its release on albion records. You can read the sleeve note if you go to www.albionrecords.org and look for the album sleeve. The English Music Festival also has a website.
… or to be precise, the Kensington Orchestra who, a couple of weeks ago, gave a terrific concert in London. What drew me was two of my favourite pieces of music unusually linked on the same bill: Stravinsky’s ‘Symphony in Three Movements’ and Vaughan Williams’ third symphony (‘Pastoral’), along with a short third piece I hadn’t heard before, Martinu’s ‘Memorial to Lidice’. The Martinu made an immediate impression – a colourful and humane work on a terrible historical subject (the Nazi eradication of the town of Lidice). Martinu’s star has been rising of recent years, and his sixth symphony is a firm favourite of mine. The Stravinsky piece may have a questionable grasp on what a purist would consider true symphonic form but what drive, colour, melody and invention! It is another example of how, despite his reputation as a dissonant and shocking modernist, Stravinsky’s music is full of intriguing melody. It was great to hear the Vaughan Williams live again – his pastoral symphony is one of the great works in any medium inspired by the First World War. Evidence again that his symphonic cycle is so remarkable – 9 symphonies that sound unmistakably his and yet each forges its own world. And you can pick them up in a box-set for about £20 these days. I should mention that a couple of Vaughan Williams previously unrecorded pieces are being released this year, including his choral setting of Swinburne’s poem ‘The Garden of Proserpine’ (published in 1866). I wrote something about it on the CD sleeve and also in the current issue of the RVW Society Journal.
I’ve noted also first reports of the new Fleet Foxes album. Their debut made a big impression and I’m looking forward to hearing the new music.
On the home front, I’ve completed a piano quartet of about 15 minutes, and unexpectedly sketched a violin sonata whilst working on something else entirely. Sometimes you just have to follow wherever the ideas lead.
It looks like the long article on ‘Stairway To Heaven’ is going to appear in two parts in the next two issues of the magazine Tight But Loose. See the tbl website for details of subscriptions, etc.
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