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LAWRANCE COLLINGWOOD

At the age of ten Lawrance Collingwood became a chorister at Westminster Abbey, where he sang for five years. This was followed by two appointments in London as an organist, firstly at St Thomas’s Hospital, and then at All Hallows’ Church, Gospel Oak. Between 1907 and 1911 he was organ scholar at Exeter College, Oxford, visiting Russia twice while at university, and going to live there in 1912. He was a student from 1913 to 1917 at the St Petersburg Conservatory, where his teachers included Nikolai Tcherepnin and Maximilian Steinberg, and in addition he assisted Albert Coates at the Maryinsky Theatre. Following the outbreak of the Russian Revolution in 1917 he returned to England and undertook military service, acting as an interpreter for Winston Churchill’s expedition in support of White Russian forces in Northern Russia (1918–1919).

Following the cessation of hostilities, in 1920 Collingwood joined the music staff of Lilian Baylis’s Old Vic Opera Company as chorusmaster. During 1918 he had composed a Poème Symphonique, which received a Carnegie Award, and which he was then invited to conduct at a Queen’s Hall concert in 1921. Ten years later, in 1931 the Sadler’s Wells Theatre opened under the management of Lilian Baylis and Collingwood was appointed as chief conductor of the opera company based there. He remained with the company until 1947 and did much to develop opera in England through both the extension of the repertoire and the raising of standards, for instance sharing the conducting of the first British performances of Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Tale of Tsar Saltan with Albert Coates (1933), and leading the first performances outside Russia of Boris Godunov in Mussorgsky’s original scoring (1935). He directed the first performances in English of Der Rosenkavalier and The Bartered Bride. During World War II he took the company on tour to more than fifty cities and towns throughout the country, in 1948 being awarded a CBE for his work. Collingwood’s own opera Macbeth was premièred at Sadler’s Wells in 1934, and another, The Death of Tintagiles, was given a concert performance there in 1950, in tribute to his many years of outstanding service to the company. He also composed a piano concerto, a piano quintet, two piano sonatas and other piano music, a rhapsody for violin and songs such as The Wood of Flowers and others originally written to French words. His final conducting engagement was as late as 1974 when he directed the students of the London Opera Centre in Le nozze di Figaro on the day of his diamond wedding anniversary.

Lawrance Collingwood also played a major role in the development of recording in England. He was introduced to it through Albert Coates in the early 1920s, and was active in the recording studio both as a conductor and as a recording supervisor, the precursor to the role of record producer. In the days of the 78rpm record, the function of the supervisor was to ensure that all musical matters were arranged in advance for the session and that, for instance, the musical breaks necessitated by the short side-lengths of the format had been agreed with the conductor and were marked into the music of the performers. The supervisor might also be asked by the performer for an opinion on the recorded performance in an era when immediate playback was impossible. Beecham asked for Collingwood to supervise many of his pre-war and post-war sessions, and had the highest regard for him, praising in particular his quiet diplomacy and tact. Following the death of Landon Ronald in 1938, Collingwood became the musical adviser for EMI, holding this position until 1972. After World War II he worked extensively as a producer with many conductors of the calibre of Barbirolli, Beecham, Boult, Cantelli, Furtwängler, Malko and Sargent, and supervised some of the best studio recordings by the Glyndebourne Festival Opera, such as Le nozze di Figaro conducted by Vittorio Gui.

As a recording conductor Collingwood led the performances of Elgar’s music that were relayed by telephone line to the dying composer’s home from the EMI studios in 1934. Elgar had met Collingwood first in 1926 and greatly respected him. Collingwood contributed to the great series of Wagner recordings that EMI produced during the inter-war years, alongside Blech, Coates and Walter, and accompanied soloists of the calibre of Edwin Fischer, Dohnányi and Elman in concertos. After the war he conducted numerous discs of operatic excerpts, as well as one of the finest of all Elgar programmes, entitled The Miniature Elgar, containing the Bavarian Dances, Serenade for Strings and Nursery Suite. Collingwood’s last recording, a selection of short pieces, was made as late as 1964. His conducting manner, like his personality, was undemonstrative, but, in the words of Malcolm Walker, ‘…the results he achieved from the players were warm, well-blended and highly sensitive.’

© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Conductors, Naxos 8.558087–90).


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