George Weldon learnt to play the piano as a child, and went on to study at the Royal College of Music, where his conducting tutors included Sir Malcolm Sargent and Aylmer Buesst. Having gained valuable experience conducting amateur orchestras and choirs in the home counties, between 1937 and 1939 Weldon served as assistant to Julius Harrison with the Hastings Municipal Orchestra. Following the outbreak of World War II he toured with the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted the London Philharmonic and National Symphony Orchestras, and took charge of a season of ballet. He was appointed chief conductor of the City of Birmingham Orchestra in 1943, in succession to Leslie Heward and after an open competition.
A tireless worker, Weldon did a great deal to strengthen this orchestra. By the end of 1944 he had secured it as a permanent body of sixty-two players; he introduced promenade concerts in 1945, and added the word ‘Symphony’ to the orchestra’s name in 1948. He was extremely well-liked by audiences, offering stylish and exciting performances of the popular repertoire, but not neglecting new music. Samuel Barber came to Birmingham to conduct his Symphony No. 1 and Sir William Walton recorded his Sinfonia concertante, with Phyllis Sellick as soloist. However, Weldon’s contract with the orchestra was unexpectedly terminated in 1951, when its board of management felt that a new conductor was required (he was succeeded by Rudolf Schwarz). Shocked by this cavalier treatment of a fine musician, Sir John Barbirolli offered Weldon the post of associate conductor with the Hallé Orchestra in Manchester. Here he once again gained a strong popular following, conducting many of the orchestra’s concerts presented throughout the north of England as well as its summer promenade concerts. He conducted the Sadler’s Wells Ballet company during its 1955–1956 season, and appeared as a guest conductor in North and South Africa, Turkey and Yugoslavia. A very heavy smoker (he used a chamber-pot by the rostrum as an ashtray), as well as a keen aficionado of sports car racing, he died unexpectedly after conducting a concert in Cape Town.
A modest and highly personable individual, Weldon conducted with an exceptionally clear beat, was a master of orchestral balance, and saw himself very much as the servant of the composer, commenting to orchestras: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, this is what the composer wrote and this is what he is going to get.’ He made his first recordings for Walter Legge and EMI’s Columbia label in 1944 when he replaced Sir Malcolm Sargent in concerto recordings with Dennis Matthews and Benno Moiseiwitsch and the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. Legge quickly recognized talent when he encountered it, and shortly afterwards engaged Weldon and the City of Birmingham Orchestra to make a series of recordings which included Dvořák’s Symphony No. 5 (old No. 3) and Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 3, with Cyril Smith as soloist, as well as several examples of light music for which Weldon possessed a distinct flair (he composed a suite entitled Mice, based on the tune Three Blind Mice).
Weldon went on to make a considerable number of recordings throughout the 1950s for EMI, with the London Symphony, Philharmonia and Royal Philharmonic Orchestras, and with the Hallé Orchestra for the Pye label. While many of these recordings have disappeared from the catalogue, those that remain testify to Weldon’s energy and stylishness as a conductor. His complete recording of Tchaikovsky’s ballet score The Sleeping Beauty is especially notable; as are his concerto recordings, such as Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concertos Nos 1 and 2 with Moiseiwitsch, Medtner’s Piano Concerto No.1 (in place of Dobrowen) with the composer as soloist, and the pairing of Grieg’s Piano Concerto and Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with the short-lived New Zealand pianist Richard Farrell. Weldon was an especially distinguished interpreter of English music: he recorded Elgar’s Sea Pictures with the contralto Gladys Ripley twice, as well as the Enigma Variations and the concert overtures Cockaigne and In the South; Bax’s Tintagel; Holst’s A Somerset Rhapsody, St Paul’s Suite and incidental music to The Perfect Fool; and Vaughan Williams’s incidental music to The Wasps, amongst many other shorter works, all with a sure grasp.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — David Patmore (A–Z of Conductors, Naxos 8.558087–90).