Interview with David Lloyd Jones in Fanfare Magazine
Insights and Ideas from Conductor David Lloyd-Jones
BY COLIN ANDERSON
David Lloyd-Jones cuts an imposing figure both in person and in conversation, a quietly determined man, one senses, who certainly knows his craft—and not just when talking about the British music that he is dedicatedly recording for Naxos, Hyperion, and Dutton.
Let us step back a moment to Lloyd-Jones’s earliest musical encounters. He was born in London in 1934. The Second World War loomed and David was evacuated. “My mother, sister, and I went to live in wildest West Wales on a very primitive farm. There was no electricity or gas or running water. My mother wasn’t musical at all; I was culturally sealed off. Towards the end of the war, I heard my very first notes of classical music on coming back to a little school in England. They had something called ‘composer of the term’; they’d joined a club and got some records. I would have been nine, and as luck would have it, the composer chosen was a fellow called W. A. Mozart. And on my 10th birthday, November 19, 1944, I attended my very first orchestral concert, which my father took me to. It was in the Royal Albert Hall, with the London Philharmonic Orchestra under Sir Thomas Beecham—newly returned from America. The first work was Rimsky-Korsakov’s May Night overture. It was rather prophetic, because the music of the Russian Nationalists has been mother’s milk to me ever since. I’ve conducted staged performances of May Night.”
Indeed, for all his current preoccupation with things British, it is perhaps the Russian repertoire with which Lloyd-Jones is most associated. He speaks the language fluently, and has conducted concerts and opera in the Soviet Union. He has edited Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov, and Borodin’s Prince Igor, and he reckons he has conducted most of Tchaikovsky’s orchestral and theatrical oeuvre. He made the first recording of Mussorgsky’s Night on Bare Mountain in the composer’s own scoring, conducted the first British staging of Prokofiev’s War and Peace and Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta, and did the first broadcasts of Rachmaninoff’s Francesca da Rimini and Prince Rostislav. Widening from the Russian Front (so to speak), there are first or UK premieres of stage works by Wilfred Josephs, Ernst Krenek, and Richard Strauss, the latter being Daphne.
Somehow, when one talks to a musician doing his bit for the British cause, one feels a need to ask if that musician is worried about being typecast. “I am a bit too old to worry about that! Anyway, most people know that after nearly 50 years in the profession I conduct the whole repertoire.”
Before getting to current recording projects, I ask David if he enjoys the recording process. “Very much. I did my first in 1972, an LP of Russian music for Philips, which included the original Night on Bare Mountain. Then a lot of my time was taken up with opera. When recording, it is essential to have a good producer. Above all, they must know how to give the orchestra the feeling that they are repeating not just for the sake of it, and say what is wrong. A producer can make, more than the conductor can, actually, such a difference to how a session is run. He has to have the same sort of ears as you have; fortunately, we have some outstanding producers in Britain at the moment. Different people have different ideas about sound; different critics, I may say, have different ideas about sound! For theater works I favor a slightly dry acoustic; a ballet score booming away is silly because the composer conceived it for the pit; best to err on the side of dryness. The sound on the new Hyperion CD of Constant Lambert is ideal. This can apply in opera, too, although not Wagner or Strauss necessarily.”
David goes on to tell me that he has “been involved with the recording process for a long time. I did a lot of work for EMI as a backup conductor for Klemperer sessions, and I pre-rehearsed for him. Then the old boy would arrive at the back of the studio and I could feel his eyes boring two holes into my back! But he was very encouraging. I also listened to tapes and helped in editing.” Other reminiscences include meeting Shostakovich in the Royal Hospital, Chelsea. “I spoke to him in Russian; he was a very nervous man, the very opposite to the self-confident Bliss, who introduced me to him. A very underrated composer, Bliss.”
And it’s Sir Arthur Bliss’s Checkmate ballet that Lloyd-Jones has recently recorded for Naxos (8.557641), only the second time it’s been captured complete. David enthuses about Naxos’s budget price. “It helps the purchaser to experiment.” Whether Bax, Bliss, Delius, Elgar, Moeran, or Vaughan Williams, Lloyd-Jones has been very busy making some excellent recordings (check out www.naxos.com) and is now on to William Alwyn (1905–85), three CDs devoted to Alwyn’s five symphonies. “Naxos let me plan the discs, and the Fifth makes a very good opener; striking stuff.” Indeed, “Hydriotaphia” is a powerful and concentrated work, and there’s also “the gorgeous harp concerto which I defy anybody not to respond to; it’s a lovely work.” Add in the superb Second Symphony and you have a CD (8.557647) that is a marvelous introduction to Alwyn’s music. Not only was he a composer; Alwyn was also a good conductor, as well as a poet and painter. He recorded his symphonies for Lyrita, and Richard Hickox has also done the cycle for Chandos. Naxos’s price point allows anyone interested to take the plunge.
I ask David to introduce this CD, starting with Symphony No. 2. “It’s such a strange shape; two movements. He was fond of it largely for that reason; there are comparatively few symphonies in two movements. You also feel that you are at the beginning of a considerable journey.” I mention that the opening bassoon reminds one of Bax’s Symphony No. 3. “Surely the most Baxian thing is the quiet ending, which shouldn’t get soporific; it’s easy to over-cherish it, it’s so lovely; there should be a bright serenity about it.”
As mentioned, Alwyn was a good conductor, and his recordings of his own scores tell us much about what he felt about them. “He would have conducted his film scores; that sorts people out! But composers take different views of their own music; Elgar’s recordings of Enigma Variations show that over the years he did them in different ways, and I have heard a tape of Alwyn doing his Second Symphony that is different from the recording.”
On the bigger picture of what Lloyd-Jones has been doing in recent years, he comments: “I would say of my discography, if I can use such a grand term, that 90 percent of it is of works that the orchestras have never played one note before.” Does Lloyd-Jones play a work all the way through at a first rehearsal? “Not very often. Rarely is there anything gained, especially if the work falls into definite sections. And all British orchestras like to concentrate on getting things right. They are remarkably able to latch on to the style in no time and concentrate on what is ultimately important: the music.”
Alwyn, Bax, Rawsthorne, and others; these are names that are sometimes dismissed. David Lloyd-Jones is unapologetic. “I have always been interested in British music, and loved it. When I was a boy, Vaughan Williams was god. I met him; he signed my score of Job. I was at a rehearsal of that work in the Royal Festival Hall in 1952 or 1953; he and I were the only two people in the auditorium.” With Sir Adrian Boult conducting, maybe? “It should have been Sir Adrian, but he was ill, so it was Basil Cameron. VW was a wonderful old boy, a real original. He greatly believed in the amateur side of music-making; he wrote things for Women Institute choirs and so on. I was involved in the Coronation of 1953, which gave a boost to British music, and it fueled my love of British music; it was already there and burst into flame. Russian music then took over; I became obsessed with it.”
If David met Vaughan Williams, did he meet William Alwyn? “Let me tell you a slightly shameful story. I was a passionate admirer of Beecham. In his final years, I went to all his concerts and quite a few rehearsals. In one program, he conducted the BBC Symphony Orchestra in three symphonies, including Mozart 29 and Tchaikovsky 4. The other was some modern British symphony, and the composer was present, discussing things with Beecham. Well, would you believe it, that was the premiere of the Third Symphony of William Alwyn. I was at the final rehearsal and first performance! But I was so fixated on Beecham and Tchaikovsky that I had hardly noticed the Alwyn. Actually, it should have been Barbirolli, but he was ill, so Beecham was not a bad deputy! It is said that he did the Alwyn excellently. So I didn’t meet Alwyn, but I was in the same room as he was.”
It’s Alwyn’s No. 3 that David believes is the best introduction to his symphonic output. The Naxos recording should be available by the time you read this (8.557648). I ask who would be Alwyn’s American counterpart. “As Alwyn was someone who knew how to write music down and to orchestrate expertly, which it is a pleasure to conduct, I should think someone like Samuel Barber.” (I had suggested Peter Mennin or, perhaps, William Schuman.) “Alwyn’s Third is very successful, a strong piece. It’s the one that makes the most direct impact: it has you from the first bar; it has enormous tension and drama. The others all have their points, too, but they may take more getting to know. Alwyn is very good at integrating different sections. People tend to think of British music as Elgar in nobilmente vein or Vaughan Williams’s modal style, or evocations of the countryside. So when you get something less British, like Alwyn, it surprises people. Walton was the first exception to being folksy; Walton was more cosmopolitan and Alwyn has some of that too. These are structured works going somewhere.”
Also new, and including rarities, is a CD of Vaughan Williams that includes two recording premieres: Willow-Wood and A Voice out of the Whirlwind. “It’s only the second performance of Willow-Wood; the first was in 1909 in Liverpool. It’s an exciting discovery, an extended work for baritone, women’s choir, and orchestra—setting poems by Dante Gabriel Rosetti. I came across a 1955 letter from Oxford University Press replying to the composer declining to re-publish Willow-Wood; it shows he was still thinking about it three years before his death. It was actually written in 1903, for baritone and piano; then he added the choir and orchestrated it. He’d also started ‘A Sea Symphony’ (setting Walt Whitman) in 1903.” The CD (8.557798) further includes The Sons of Light from 1951, his penultimate major choral work. It’s all about “the creation of the world, the coming of light and water, signs of the Zodiac, and the arrival of man and the gift of speech. He enjoys himself and composes in a Holstian way; it’s to a very good text by Ursula Vaughan Williams.”
We talk generally: about whether there’s too much music around, and about whether Beethoven’s symphonies are played too fast (the very suggestion draws a weary sigh from Lloyd-Jones who is not impressed with such shenanigans). I praise David’s Naxos recordings of Elgar’s Falstaff and Vaughan Williams’s Job as among the finest of either—no reaction, except to say that they are both very favorite works—and I ask what else he would like to record from the British canon: “Stanford’s Irish rhapsodies and the symphonies.” He mentions how pleased he is with his Naxos recording of three works by George Dyson, including the Symphony, and extends his Want List in terms of recording to “French music; I have great affection for that. I love Ravel and I’d like to do the Roussel symphonies. Also the four Tchaikovsky orchestral suites, of which I am inordinately fond, and I have an extremely soft spot for the Schumann symphonies.”
For Hyperion (www.hyperion-records.co.uk) David has for 15 years been championing Constant Lambert (1905–51). The latest release, as mentioned earlier, the one ideally recorded, is on CDA 67545 and includes Lambert’s Romeo and Juliet ballet: deft music. “Clean,” adds Lloyd-Jones. “Okay, as a composer he’s perhaps not going to set the Thames on fire, but he was an amazing, multitalented person; I became fascinated by him through reading his brilliant book Music Ho! as a schoolboy.” For this listener, Lambert has been something of a blind spot, but this most recent Hyperion issued has proved enlightening.
David Lloyd-Jones has reached the time of life when he “wants to come to grips with unknown Beethoven and Mozart or discover another Haydn string quartet.” Future plans were mostly under wraps when we spoke (in August 2005), but they include the premiere recording, for Hyperion, of the original version of Delius’s Piano Concerto with Piers Lane. “It will be the first ever recording (and indeed performance, since 1906) of the original, three movement, version of the Delius. What is known and has been recorded several times as the Delius Piano Concerto is a very much revised version in one continuous movement for which the piano part was almost totally rewritten by the Hungarian pianist Theodor Szanto, who made it sound like Busoni—in other words, almost the antithesis of Delius.” John Ireland’s Piano Concerto, a lovely work, is also on the CD. I ask about setting down relatively rare repertoire. “It doesn’t matter that these works are rare; what matters is that they’re good. And these are.” William Alwyn was the catalyst for this piece. Are you still undecided about exploring Alwyn’s symphonies, even at budget price? David Lloyd-Jones thinks he would “be crazy to hesitate!”
Fanfare Magazine, January/Feburary 2006 issue
David Lloyd-Jones discography