Wednesday, March 30, 2016

How two corporate record companies got it completely right


As a founder member of the corporate label knocking movement it is somewhat chastening to be writing yet again in praise of releases from corporate record companies. A few swallows may not make a spring, but it seems that Universal Music's corporate rivals have learnt the lesson from the Sinfini fiasco that it is the music and not the egos around it that really matters. So in our celebrity-fixated age it is a delight to see Warner Classics devoting a 24 CD retrospective to an outstanding conductor from the pre-Rolex years. There are too many riches in Sir Charles Groves: British Music to list here; but they include the stunning in every way - including the artwork - Walton disc seen above, Delius' Koanga (complete) and Mass of Life, Bliss' A Colour Symphony and Morning Heroes, Elgar's Caractacus and The Light of Life, and Vaughan William's Hugh the Drover, and as the icing on a very delicious cake Havergal Brians Sixth and Eighth symphonies - listen to Havergal Brian's Eighth via this link.

This lavish reissue of EMI recordings, which comes complete with original LP artwork, is a very fitting tribute. But there was much more to Sir Charles Groves: he gave the Proms premiere of Jonathan Harvey's Persephone Dream in 1981 (coupled with Brendel playing Brahms' First Concerto and Janáček's Sinfonietta), and while principal conductor of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic in the orchestra's glory years from 1963 to 1977 his choice of repertoire was notably adventurous. Simon Rattle recalls pleading with his father in 1966 to let him hear Sir Charles conduct the RLPO in Messiaen's Turangalila when it was still a rarity, and - this will surprise many - in the 1960s Sir Charles mounted the first ever cycle of Mahler symphonies in Britain with his Liverpool orchestra*. Among my memories of him is a 1970s performance of Mahler's Eighth Symphony in the glass house on steroids that is Alexander Palace in north London. That performance was particularly memorable because in the Symphony of a Thousand's few quiet passages the pigeons up in the roof added a touch of Messiaen to the score.



Sony Music is another corporate label that has got the message that the industry's big opportunity is neglected music. Which means that on April 15th they are releasing a super-budget priced 11 CD box of Sir Malcolm Arnold: The Complete Conifer Recordings. This is very good news indeed; not only does the set include Sir Malcolm's nine neglected symphonies in superlative performances conducted by Vernon Handley, but there is the bonus of his eleven concertos. Conifer made many outstanding recordings, so let's hope that Sony will now make more of these available. Let's also hope that classical music's taste makers give these two refreshing new releases the support they deserve irrespective of the gender of the two musicians they celebrate. On An Overgrown Path was one of the earliest advocates of increased representation of women in classical music, and I am sorry if the following upsets some people. But there is an imminent danger of the much needed correction in gender balance turning into an unhelpful political correctness. So let's hear it for all marginalised musicians, including Sir Charles Groves and Sir Malcolm Arnold.


* Even more surprisingly, some say the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic performances were the first European Mahler cycle - can anyone confirm or correct that?

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1 comment:

JMW said...

Those EMI recordings changed the direction of my pursuits; I have most of them and continue to consult them frequently. I'm sure others have had the same experience. The first one I owned was Groves' never surpassed performances of Frank Bridge's Enter Spring and The Sea, recordings that sent me to serious research of the composer, and led directly to my later performances of Bridge's visionary Violin Sonata. Among the others, Morning Heroes also made a lasting impression upon me as music that urgently needs to be heard and that remains timely as ever. All of them are unforgettable treasures. Sir Charles is the gift that never ceases giving.