Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Lina Lalandi

For several decades Lina Lalandi was a force in music. When I first came across her in the fifties she was a harpsichordist. She had a mass of black hair, very handsome, elegant, a ball of fire even if her playing wasn't very good. At that time she would take the little recital room in the Festival Hall building. She also demonstrated for Hugh Gough. By a quirk of fate, the two best makers of harpsichord makers lived in the same London street, Pont, and their names were Tom Goff and Hugh Gough. Both were upper-classsuper amateurs; I remember that Hugh could not pronounce his r's "Play the Wameau Pwelude" he would say to Lina.

In 1963 she organised her first Oxford Bach Festival, choosing that town because she had recruited the Professor of Music there, Sir Jack Westrup. Lina had big ideas: her first festival president was Albert Schweitzer; when he died Igor Stravinsky took over;  and when he died Leonard Bernstein replaced him.

William Glock once said that his aim was to programmemusic that people might like 'next year'. With Lina it was music they might like 'next decade'. She put Olivier Messiaen on at Oxford before he became famous and the takings were £27. She gradually moved her festival to London and elsewhere, putting on music by Varèse, Berio and her countrymen Skalkottas and Xenakis. She put on Wameau operas (with something like authentic costumes and dances). She got Stravinsky to conduct his Symphony of Psalms.

But the box office receipts rarely made ends meet. Her long suffering banker husband, Ralph Emery could not persuadeher to cut her cloth etc. Events thinned and finally stopped altogether. But no doubt she thought it was all worthwhile.

The trouble with Lina was that she had always got money and artists to pay and play by persuasion; but she didn't just persuade, she badgered, she nagged; a phone call from Lina could last a whole morning. She was relentless.

Banks, sponsors, supporters gradually gave up. She had been made OBE in 1975. I tried to get her a higher honour, for her to be made an honorary member of the Royal Philharmonic Society. No good, everybody remembered the nagging and bullying phone calls.

It was sad because her intentions were of the best; her taste was impeccable, and her achievements considerable and important.

Lina died June 8 this year, aged 91. 

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Sonic Boom

On Monday 25 June I had a major experience I did not expect; the most sumptuous orchestral sound I have ever heard in my life. It was at an open rehearsal in the Royal Festival Hall of the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra we hear so much about and their whizz-kid of a conductor, Gustave Duhamel. (By now, some the youths are in their thirties, but no matter). The sound of, at a guess, two hundred instrumentalists was a shattering experience, I can tell you, possums; it was positively an aural orgasm: the sight of some seventy violins and violas bowing together on the G string or reaching into the rosin places in high-lying Richard Strauss was incredible, supported down below by ten horns, umpteen cellos and a dozen double-basses, overwhelming. Grasping for analogies I can only say it was like snuggling on half-a-dozen eiderdowns or tackling a whole pile of jammy trifles. OMG! It was Pelion on Ossa, sun rises and sunsets, one after the other.

When the orgy was over, the lady in the neighbouring seat asked me "what was that they played, do you know?" Richard Strauss's Alpine Symphony I replied. My neighbour also asked if the music was great and of course I had to say 'no' but that it was the perfect showcase for such a vast orchestra with climax after climax, sonic amplitude after sonic tone-burst, sunrise after sunrise and finally, detumescence after detumescence, i.e. taking a long time to drop the penny. Incidentally, Gustave Duhamel is no whizz-kid but obviously a thoroughly competent and skilled conductor, totally in command of his vast forces as regards balance and musical sense. Oh, possums, fifty minutes of gorging the gorgeous!

John Ireland in Chelsea

Was the composer John Ireland a petit maître? True, his songs and piano pieces are the best of him, and he composed no operas or symphonies. But there is nothing small about some of his marvellous chamber music: his Cello Sonata, played on the last evening (25th June) of a mini-festival of Ireland and Co, mostly in St. Luke's Church, Chelsea, where he was organist for twenty years, is a big-boned piece, well structured, written in 1924 in a mood of grieving and raging about the Great War, lyrical, richly chromatic and demanding virtuosity from its performers Julian Lloyd Webber and John Lenehan, and concentration from its audience. It got both. The work that followed, the second of Ireland's Piano Trios, is the achievement of a master, not a petit maître.

Another master work was his substantial number for piano, not quite finished but a great piece, typical Ireland, but also at times, influenced by Ravel and even looking forward to Messiaen. It is on a big scale and has been titled Ballade of London Nights but could be called a sonata in one movement. It was scaled and conquered with some fine pianism by Maria Marchant. There was also music excellently played by the East London Brass and good singing from the Addison Singers conducted by the Festival director, David Wordsworth. Music was also included in the other concerts by Ireland's teacher, Stanford and his pupils, one of which was by Ireland's friend, Alan Bush. A work by the latter was his unaccompanied choral piece which Bush wrote describing and lamenting Lidice a Czech village which the Germans completely erased as reprisal for the assassination of the Nazi boss, Heydrich. It was first performed in Czechoslovakia on the actual site where Lidice had been (I was a temporary member of the Workers Music Association so the sad music brought back memories).
Many songs were sung superbly by Roderick Williams, the baritone whose singing and artistry are at their peak now. And of course he included that memorable, popular and fine song Sea Fever. It remains Ireland's best known piece, as is Stanford's haunting Bluebird in his oeuvre.
I don't suppose Ireland's music will ever be as popular or as much played as the big boys of British music but there will always be some who will savour much of his oeuvre. This festival was a welcome remainder of a true maître, petit or grand.

Poor Butterfly

Grange Park Opera's repertoire is down this season to just three works: Idomeneo/Mozart, Queen of Spades/Tchaikovsky and Madama Butterfly/Puccini. This was the second year running that Cio-Cio San was caught in the Hampshire net; its production is a dismal, threadbare affair, visually. The set consists of a screen, a curved plywood? background in brown and a platform six inches high which is all anybody has to squat on until act two when an inappropriate-looking armchair appears.

The main protagonist, Mr and Mrs Pinkerton, sang their notes well but there was no love chemistry between them; indeed they looked rather like an Oldie magazine advert for insurance for the aged. Lieutenant Marco Panuccio seemed pawky and paunchy rather than a dashing Yankee; (Mrs) Claire Rutter sported unflattering garments topped by an ugly wig so there was nothing to make her look desirable, let alone the 'fifteen years' she admits her age to be. Her Suzuki/Sara Fulgoni towered over her mistress, sounding unsympathetic, Sharpless / Stephen Gadd was good but kitted out in shabby looking morning dress. Not a winning looking bunch.
Yet …and yet, the music came across strongly, hearts were touched and tears flowed (mine did near a dozen times.) What a masterly score it is! Puccini's finest work surely. And Claire Rutter showed stamina in delivering her long part impressively so that the audience forgot her none too satisfactory get-up. But where there is a good operatic performance, it nearly always means that the conductor is first-class and so it was here (June 30).Gianluca Marciano obtained great things from the English Chamber Orchestra (not so 'chamber' neither). So there was real pleasure to be had in the beautiful surroundings of the Hampshire countryside. But Grange Opera can, and should, do better in the way of décor and costumes.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

BBC Radio 3

Sam Philips, Chris Wines, Louise Fryer and John Amis - BBC Radio 3 July 3rd 2012

Listen to it on the BBC Radio 3 iplayer online. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01kbgys