About this Recording
8.571354 - Piano Music - HOLLOWAY, R. / HOWARD, L. / MATTHEW-WALKER, R. / SEARLE, H. (Malcolm Smith Memorial Album) (Lill, L. Howard, Bebbington, Jacobson)
English 

The Malcolm Smith Album
Holloway • Howard • Matthew-Walker • Handel • Searle

 

This recording has come about as a result of a bequest by the late John Malcolm Smith (1932–2011), known universally in the world of classical music in the United Kingdom by his middle name. Malcolm was for many years head of Promotion and the Hire Library of Boosey & Hawkes Ltd, and a stalwart of many musical organisations and Festivals. He was a personal friend of many great composers, including Stravinsky, Vaughan Williams, Britten and Bernstein, and of many performing musicians whose early careers he helped, often behind the scenes. Malcolm was a tireless advocate of British music; a life member of the Royal Philharmonic Society, patron of the Bantock Society and vice-president of the British Music Society. He was chairman of the LSO club for many years, attended every Three Choirs Festival from 1954 and was a familiar and popular figure in London’s musical life; his ‘May I help you?’ on answering the telephone endeared him to many.

Extraordinary things happened to Malcolm without his prompting: he was asked by Arthur Miller to escort Marilyn Monroe to a performance in London of Waiting for Godot in August 1955—‘God knows what she thought of it!’ Malcolm said; whilst serving in the RAF in 1952 he appeared in the Alec Guinness/Jack Hawkins film The Malta Story, in one scene helping Guinness into an aeroplane cockpit and wishing him well; and some years before, Malcolm had struck up a friendship with Anna Mahler, the composer’s daughter, during a train journey in post-war Germany and Austria, a friendship which lasted until her death in London in 1988.

Malcolm’s retirement party from Boosey & Hawkes in 1997 is still remembered by those who survived it, and his retirement was commemorated in a short piece for six hands at one piano by the distinguished composer Robin Holloway, whose music was published by the firm and who was also a personal friend of Malcolm’s. Holloway’s Grand Heroical March moves at a somewhat stately pace, as did its dedicatee, quoting from some of Malcolm’s favourite works—Elgar’s Enigma Variations, Delius’s Appalachia and Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier, in particular: there may be other affectionate allusions in this musical picture post-card which are not quite so readily identifiable.

Malcolm Smith died in 2011 after a short illness, and bequeathed a sum of money to facilitate a commercial recording of Holloway’s Grand Heroical March, with a suggestion that it be performed by three of the pianists who were regular attendees of Malcolm’s ROMEO gatherings (an acronym of ‘Retired Old Musicians Eating Out’). Those ‘ROMEOs’ arose from that retirement party, following a suggestion by friends who felt the goodwill shown on that occasion should be continued in quarterly lunch meetings in London—a tradition which lives on.

Malcolm also requested that each of the three pianists should perform a work by a British composer, preferably a piece which had either not been recorded before or had remained unrecorded for many years. The choice was left to the individual pianists, but of the three who play Holloway’s piece, the very full commitments in John Lill’s concert diary meant that he was unable to prepare a British solo piano piece for the recording in good time. Julian Jacobson, another friend of Malcolm’s, agreed to step in, choosing Humphrey Searle’s Piano Sonata to complete the recording.

Leslie Howard is probably best-known amongst the general musical public as a considerable piano virtuoso, having accomplished the extraordinarily unique feat of recording for Hyperion the complete music for piano by Franz Liszt, on 99 CDs, including seventeen works for piano and orchestra, a project which was accomplished over fourteen years, during which time he was awarded no fewer than six Grands Prix du Disque and an entry in the Guinness Book of Records. Howard has recorded much diverse music for other labels, including Deutsche Grammophon, EMI, Nimbus, Melba and Merlin; he is also a conductor (directing a bicentenary performance in 2011 of Liszt’s oratorio Christus from memory) and an accomplished oboist, having performed Mozart’s Oboe Concerto in Australia.

Howard’s Ruddigore Fantasy of 2005 was commissioned by John Farmer for Ruth Ann Galatas, and was first performed by the composer in London at a Royal Brompton Hospital charity concert on 5 November 2005. The title is styled in homage to the early operatic fantasies of Liszt, and is conceived as a continuous suite incorporating variations and transcriptions of several themes from Sullivan’s marvellous Ruddigore—or The Witch’s Curse, an opera which Malcolm Smith rated highly. The piece begins with the first part of the Chorus of Ancestors, outlining the aforementioned curse, and continues with the mighty When the night wind howls in the chimney cowls. Ruth’s song from the Act 1 finale and part of the Bridesmaid’s chorus lead to the theme in 9/8 that ends the first act (and the whole opera, in the revised version), followed by a daredevil elaboration of the patter-trio from Act 2: My eyes are fully open with its celebrated reiterations of ‘it really doesn’t matter, matter, matter, matter, matter’. A nod to the earlier ‘night wind’ brings the piece to a happy end.

My Fantasy-Sonata: Hamlet was commissioned by Rhondda Gillespie for her recital at the 1980 Buxton Festival, which that year had a Shakespearean theme. The Sonata is not a programmatic work in the generally accepted sense of the term, nor is it wholly an attempt at a character-portrait. Although the emotional content is clear, and the work is full of broad, dramatic gestures, the Sonata is also, in so far as any piece of music can be, a metaphysical work in which certain events occur causing changes of quite distinctive character, and yet which, at a deeper level, are joined (rather than unified) by a constant pulse and its multiples, and by a linking tonal thread. Further than this I am not prepared to say, but in the course of the Sonata’s continuous journey the work proceeds through five sections, or moods, prefaced by a slow improvisatory introduction. A fiery allegro leads to a very fast yet very quiet scherzando section, full of incessant irregular triplets. This leads to a very dramatic middle section, literally full of overtones, both obsessive and wild, which melts into an extended nocturne, being the first moment of calm and repose in the Sonata. This comes to an end without being entirely resolved, before a coda, in which an aleatoric line in the right hand muses over aspects of the original material against a steady tolling in the left. The Sonata ends quietly, with the faint hint of an unanswered question. The Sonata is dedicated to Hans Keller.

Leslie Howard’s Handel transcription is included as a specific and fond tribute to Malcolm, who certainly knew his Handel. It was made in 2010 for Tristan Patrick Lee, and first performed by Howard on 23 May 2010 at the Bulawayo Festival in Zimbabwe. It joins the two sections of the aria, eliminating the intervening chorus, and simply recounts one of Handel’s loveliest and most solemn musical utterances.

Leslie Howard’s commitment to the music of Liszt is not confined to his public performances and recordings of the composer’s music. He has edited—most recently a definitive edition of Liszt’s Sonata in B minor—and written extensively on Liszt and his music. He is President of the Liszt Society, the longest continuously running Liszt society in the world, which was founded in 1950 by the British composer Humphrey Searle, who enlisted the support of William Walton, Constant Lambert and Sacheverell Sitwell. Searle was one of the first British composers to adopt the twelve-tone technique evolved by Arnold Schoenberg; he had studied in Vienna before World War II with Anton Webern, who, with Alban Berg, was one of Schoenberg’s two most famous pupils. As an intriguing aside, as a serving British army officer in Berlin in 1945, Searle was tasked with translating the will of Josef Goebbels, the Reich Minister of Propaganda, following his suicide, and whilst in Berlin, Searle learned of the death of Webern, shot by a American soldier for breaking a curfew.

1951 marked the 140th anniversary of Liszt’s birth, and members of the newly formed Liszt Society, together with other concert-goers, heard the first performance of Searle’s Piano Sonata at London’s Wigmore Hall, composed ‘for the 140th birthday of Franz Liszt, 22 October 1951’ and premiered by the Australian-born pianist Gordon Watson—from memory—on that day, concluding a demanding programme that began with Liszt’s Twelve Transcendental Studies. Searle’s impressive score unites two important aspects of the composer’s compositional approach: structurally, it owes much to Liszt’s Sonata of 1853, and utilises Schoenberg’s twelve-tone technique. Schoenberg himself had died at his home in Los Angeles three months before.

In such company, the Sonata made a strong impression, The Times noting the work’s affinity, in terms of design, ‘to Liszt’s B minor work, and a part of its impulse to the memory of Schoenberg, Lambert and Cecil Gray [both of whom—Gray a noted British writer on music—had also recently died]’, going on to say that ‘its impact is quite individual, suffused with darkling, elegiac poetry and commanding thought’. Those who know Liszt’s Sonata intimately may recognise various subtle allusions in this homage to a great composer’s masterpiece.

Watson recorded the Sonata soon afterwards for the newly formed independent Argo label, but that early long-playing record was soon deleted. Julian Jacobson’s new recording is therefore only the second this elusive masterwork has received in over sixty years, fulfilling Malcolm Smith’s wishes of bringing to the public music which, as a vice-president of the British Music Society, he felt deserved to be represented on disc and which his generous bequest has made possible.


Robert Matthew-Walker

Quotation from Der Rosenkavalier, Op. 59 by Richard Strauss
© Copyright 1910, 1911 by Adolph Furstner, U.S. copyright renewed
© Copyright 1943 assigned to Hawkes & Son (London) Ltd. (a Boosey & Hawkes company) for the world excluding Germany, Italy, Portugal and the formal territories of the USSR (excluding Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania)


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