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As our May 2017 issue is currently on sale, we thought it would be interesting to look back at the May issues of 1927, 1947 and 1967 (or 90, 70 and 50 years) to see just how much classical music, and the world, has changed. But, as the editorial of May 1927 makes clear, some things will always stay the same!
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Compton Mackenzie was clearly in voluble mood and took two recent letters to the Editor as an excuse for a colossally long Editorial. Both letters loosely discussed the interpretation of chamber music: are the Lener Quartet superior to the Virtuoso Quartet? And why, wrote one, are we constantly being served up 'drivel by tinpot British composers...Delius and Warlock. Both merely favourable specimens of modern things, but Warlock's might just as well be called "Summer Night on the River" as the other, and both sound to me like the sort of music any capable musically minded man might improvise for his own enjoyment and which might go on for ever, never actually saying anything'? Mackenzie sidestepped this assault on British music though he did rise to the plea by Correspondent Y to 'confine himself to his balalaika orchestras and such-like toys, and leave music to men like "KK". I have no desire to offend anyone, but surely it is obvious that Mr Mackenzie is not a musician in any sense of the word. So I plead for less "CM" and much more "KK".' Mackenzie replied that 'if I may seem too much a "Jack of all trades and a master of none," that is after all what 75 per cent of my readers are'.
Herman Klein's series of Lieder singing had reached Part 5 and the songs of Richard Strauss who was then in his sixty-third year. Klein clearly had a problem with Strauss's music: 'he is remarkable for the inequality of his work: now rising to heights so exalted that they almost merit the term "sublime"; now descending to a level of banality and emptiness incredible in a musician of such genius and resource'. Wolf, Liszt and Loewe were also discussed.
In an article on 'The Gramophone in school', Dr Robert T White, a lecturer in music at Goldsmith's College, University of London, was at pains to characterize the gramophone as a stop-gap in an appreciation of live music. 'It is imperative for the young teacher to realise its imperfections, and to see that children do not imagine that the gramophone gives a really faithful reproduction...we can only insist that the main function of the gramophone in its present state is to kindle a keen desire to hear the particular work in its proper setting, and it says a good deal for the instrument that it does really whet the appetite.'
Given the correspondence in recent months on the subject of buying records in non-metropolitan America the competition announced in the March 1927 issue and repeated in May might still have some relevance. 'Three Pounds' Worth of Records (winner's choice) are offered for the best description in not more than 300 words of GOOD OVERSEAS RECORD SERVICE.' A closing comment must have struck dealers as something of a poisoned chalice: 'we shall ask the winning firm in this competition to make a present of a record to everyone of its clients who sends an entry.'
The theme of quartets continued in the review section. KK discussed the Flonzaley Quartet's HMV recordings of Beethoven's Op 18 No 2 and Op 135, finding 'their temperament too mercurial' for the composer's later works but 'for those who like even their early Beethoven hot and strong here is the very ticket'. Operatic overtures and incidental music seemed to dominate the orchestral reviews with a fine recording of Bizet's L'Arlésienne music under Eugene Goossens eliciting special praise. Of the Belgravia Salon Orchestra in 'sweet nothings of Coleridge-Taylor' KK felt the playing most ideally 'to befit chops and tomato sauce'. In the operatic section Herman Klein was ecstatic about Mariano Stabile's Tosca and Otello arias: 'Simply perfect in his records, even as he was in his wonderful embodiment of Falstaff at our Royal Opera last season!'
A fairly slender issue presented a review of Fred Gaisberg's autobiography Music on Record in lieu of an Editorial. In it Alec Robertson paid an affectionate tribute to one of the first 'record men'. 'Two great men, a poet and composer, lamented their lack of inches: but what Keats and Mozart felt to be a drawback must often have proved a blessing to Fred Gaisberg. I can well imagine that a giant like Chaliapin, or more ample prima donna or another, shed their wrath when their eyes fell upon the small and appealing figure looking at them. Do not imagine that all Gaisberg could do was to twinkle, a lesser among greater stars.'
John Culshaw contributed an article entitled 'Afterthoughts on film music' following an earlier piece on 'Film Music and the gramophone'. His thesis - that all the elements of the film-maker's art (photography, sound, editing and so forth) merge one into the other in a unified whole - found an interesting echo in a review by WRA of Lord Berners's music for the film of Dickens's Nicholas Nickleby. WRA was rather perplexed by the whole business of listening to music written for a film: 'If the background music in a film does its job well, one may not much notice it. When one is asked to, afterwards, the film is probably sufficiently well remembered to allow one to estimate how the music fitted; but if one has not seen the film? - and, after all, over a third of the population never goes to the cinema. It's all rather difficult. My own feeling is that music for films can never be very important.'
More substantial fare from HMV was reviewed alongside the Berners: Beecham's Tapiola with the RPO, Schnabel's Beethoven Second Piano Concerto with Issay Dobrowen and, from Rafael Kubelík, Janáček's Sinfonietta ('Give Janáček a trial, and form your own opinion'). The 'titles' of the reviews still employed an order in listing work, artist and, above all, composer that seems somewhat peculiar today:
Artur Schnabel (piano) and Philharmonia Orchestra (Issay Dobrowen): Concerto No 2 in B flat major, Op 19 (Beethoven). HMV DB6323/6 (12 ins, 29s 4d). Auto D89099-9102.
A Columbia disc of excerpts from Lohengrin saw Helen Traubel and Kurt Baum singing with the Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra of New York under Artur Rodzinski. AR found much to enjoy in the soprano's contribution, less in the tenor's ('Guido d'Arezzo remarked in the twelfth century: "There is a large gulf between musicians and singers": and Kurt Baum does nothing to disprove the maxim').
Changing musical tastes meant that at last Claudio Monteverdi was being recognized for the genius he was. 1967 saw the quatercentenary of his birth and Denis Stevens contributed a long article on the composer. Rather strangely Roger Wimbush devoted a paragraph to him as well in 'Here and There', drawing the attention of music-lovers 'for whom music began with Bach and ended with Debussy' to his merits. RL's 'Quarterly Retrospect' ranged far and wide. Series currently under way were Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt's Beethoven symphonies and Istvan Kertesz in the Dvořák. One conductor who was singled out for praise was Claudio Abbado who had recorded Beethoven's Seventh for Decca. It was, perhaps, a surprise to see RL enthusing about Bernstein the composer but he had a lot of positive things to say about the Age of Anxiety Symphony. Bernstein the conductor, however, caused Trevor Harvey much consternation in the review pages. CBS had just issued Lenny's Brahms Third which TH found extremely loud and somewhat 'over-interpreted'. Deryck Cooke weighed the merits of Eugen Jochum's Bruckner No 4 on DG against a rival version from Erich Leinsdorf on RCA. The DG was preferred but not above the Klemperer on Columbia or the Walter on CBS. Claudio Abbado and Decca cropped up again this month with a new coupling of Prokofiev's Chout and Romeo and Juliet suites; EG was most enthusiastic, as he was about Barry Tuckwell's coupling of the Strauss horn concertos, recorded with his colleagues in the LSO.
Sir Adrian Boult, who appeared on this issue's front cover, had just released a disc which coupled Elgar's The Music Makers with Parry's Blest pair of Sirens. He conducted his London Philharmonic forces and, in the Elgar, was joined by Janet Baker. Surprisingly it was the first complete recording of The Music Makers and Alec Robertson was very taken with Boult's reading: 'There is a blazing intensity...in the verse beginning "With Wonderful deathless ditties, we build up the world 's great cities", and at its peak climax'. He also found much to admire in Baker's contribution.
May 1967 also saw the release of HMV's 'Homage to Gerald Moore', a live recording made only three months earlier at the Royal Festival Hall in London. Moore had been joined by Victoria de Los Angeles, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. AR, though, found the pianist's solo encore extraordinarily moving: 'The great emotion he must have been feeling, especially at the end of the long and arduous evening, is still restrained in his inspired playing - his way, as he said, of saying goodbye - of Schubert's An die Musik: but a friend of mine who was sitting near the platform tells me the tears were running down his cheeks - and, I would add, not only down his.'
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