Vernon Handley died today at his home in Wales. He was born in 1930, and in his lifetime probably recorded more British music than any conductor, living or dead. He was an acclaimed interpreter of Elgar, Bax, Vaughan Williams, Finzi, and many other composers and worked as assistant to Sir Adrian Boult. I can remember a Dream of Gerontius conducted by Tod with his Guildford orchestra and choir in 1976 that was as good as any I have ever heard.
But Tod Handley wasn't just a specialist in the English pastoralists. His cycle of the Robert Simpson symphonies (except No 11) for Hyperion is one of the great achievements of the gramophone. He has recorded Elizabeth Maconchy's music, and his cycle of the Malcolm Arnold symphonies for Conifer (now re-issued on Decca) is another great recording landmark.
But his major achievements with British music were also a source of frustration to him as they resulted in his being pigeon-holed as a specialist in the field. Tod was also magnificent in Brahms and other mainstream repertoire and he held conducting appointments in the Netherlands and Australia. His championing of contemporary music should not be overlooked and he was very disappointed that he had to stop studying new scores in his later years due to failing eyesight.
Vernon Handley was a fine musician and a larger than life personality. His contribution to British music never received the recognition it truly deserved, but we are fortunate that he has left such a rich recorded legacy.
Thank you for the music Tod, and I am sure you will soon be working your magic on those celestial choirs.
* View just some of that rich recorded legacy here, and read the Times obituary here.
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