BBC Prom evokes memories of 'Glorious John'

Here are Pliable's personal picks for the coming week's BBC Proms, plus a wonderfully meandering path which leads eventually to Sir John Barbirolli (photo above) and the topical New York Philharmonic. All Proms are available for seven days online, detailed programmes and broadcast times for every concert are available from the BBC web site.

* July 25, 7.00pm - Marin Alsop and Bournemouth Symphony in a programme of Beethoven's Leonore No. 3, Barber's Violin Concerto, Copland's Symphony No. 3. Worth a listen. But if you had a top conductor, top orchestra, and top concert hall for the evening, not to mention a few million radio, TV and internet listeners, would you really give them that programme?

* July 25, 10.00pm - Hummel's Alma virgo and Schubert's Mass D950 with Richard Hickox and Collegium Musicum 90. Shouldn't have been bumped into the late night slot by that Fanfare for the Common Man.

* July 26, 7.30pm - a classic British music Prom including Tippet's neglected Triple Concerto, and Vaughan William's luminous Fifth Symphony, which for my money is one of the great twentieth century symphonies. Exactly the kind of programme the chief conductor of the BBC Symphony should be performing. Only problem is he isn't. Jiří Bĕlohlávek will be pursuing his operatic career fifty miles away in Glyndebourne, and rehearsing the London Philharmonic in Tristan. Which means Andrew Davis conducts. Which is probably not such a bad thing.

* July 27, 7.30pm - yet another bizarre "find me three works that together last for 90 minutes" programme from Nicholas Kenyon - R. Strauss Macbeth, Britten Our Hunting Fathers and Nielsen's Symphony No. 4. The justification for the programme is a 'Shakespeare and Auden theme', which leaves me struggling to find the connection with Nielsen 4. Suggestions for suitably bizarre encores on a postcard to On An Overgrown Path please. Anyway, the performance should blaze with Marc Elder conducting the Hallé Orchestra, and the Nielsen is the second truly great twentieth century symphony in the week.

At least we should get to hear these works complete. Which is more than happened with the BBC Proms commission Substratum from Sam Hayden on Tuesday this week. Immediately before the first performance it was announced the BBC Symphony under David Robertson would only play the last three of the new works seven movements. The official reason given by the BBC was inadequate preparation time. But I wonder if the real reason was some audience participation in the unperformed part of the score?

Writing about Vaughan Williams Symphony No. 5 in D prompted me to play the CD of Sir John Barbirolli's classic account (EMI CDM 5651102) of that masterpiece. What a wonderful convergence of paths. Barbirolli's is one of the great readings of VW5, and 'Glorious John' was permanent conductor and music director of the New York Philharmonic from 1936 to 1941. Barbirolli was 37 when he took up the post, and the New York Philharmonic this week announced the appointment of the currently 40 year old Alan Gilbert to lead the orchestra from 2009. Sounds like a great decision, and a great antidote to the current round of complacent jet set maestros. But it won't all be plain sailing in New York, as Glorious John found out.

More on Barbirolli, Vaughan Williams and Bax's Tintagel (which is the coupling on the VW5 CD) on this overgrown path.
Sir John Barbirolli photo from EMI. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk


Garth Trinkl said…
pliable, I'm reading your brief comments on BBC programming for July 25 to 27, and wonder whether you believe that it would be possible for the BBC and London to program a 'classic American music Prom'. Regarding July 25, I will assume that you are asking for the Copland Symphony #3, rather than the Barber Violin concerto, to be jettisoned.

Can you propose an alternative "luminous" American symphony in lieu of the Copland? Or maybe you believe that the BBC Proms should not be stooping to including two American works on a single program? Or perhaps Ms Alsop and the Bournemouth should substitute the Shostakovich #5 for the Copland? Or the Fifth Symphony by another British composer?
Pliable said…
Can you propose an alternative "luminous" American symphony in lieu of the Copland?.

Yes - Alan Hovhaness Symphony No. 22 "City of Light" Op. 236. The CD with the composer conducting the Seattle Symphony (Delos 3137) plays as I write.

Seriously though, I don't think I made myself clear. My criticism is not of the MUSIC or its NATIONALITY, it is of the PROGRAMME PLANNING.

I am quite delighted for the BBC to programme one or more Proms with all American music. But that particular programme with a symphony from 1946, and a violin concerto from 1941, combined with a Beethoven overture seemed strangely lacking in challenge.

The whole programme could have been lifted if the spurious Beethoven had been replaced by something challenging, and American.

Just as an example William Howard Schuman is a composer whose music I would like to learn more about. But I do know his Symphony No. 5 (Symphony for Strings), and think more people should hear it. At 18 minutes it could have replaced the Beethoven as the programme opener. That way a relatively unfamiliar composer (in the UK) would have been heard.

I've just listened to a recording of the Schuman (I Musici de Montréal conducted by Yuli Turovsky on Chandos) and it is a quite wonderful work, virtuosic, dynamic and unfamiliar - perfect for the Proms audience.

But I am sure my many American readers, can nominate other works that would equally have lifted that programme.

And yes Garth. I know Schuman's Symphony No. 5 dates from 1943, which at least would have given some coherency to the programme.
Garth Trinkl said…
Thank you, pliable. I see that I misunderstood you and that I also didn't make myself clear. I was focusing on the Copland, and not on the Beethoven (having been mislead by your mention of the Schubert Mass later that same evening).

While waiting for other American readers and American and world classical music enthusiasts to make their opinions known to Nicholas Kenyon in London and Sharon Percy Rockefeller in Washington, D.C., I'm going to propose one alternative to your opening of the July 25 BBC Proms concert with the William Schuman Symphony #5 and closing (after the Barber Violin Concerto) with the Hovhaness Symphony #22.

My alternative would be to open the concert with Roy Harris's driving Symphony #3 [1938/39](also about 18 minutes); and to follow the Barber Violin Concerto with the William Schuman Symphony #6 (1948), Symphony #7 (1960), Symphony #8(1962), Symphony #9 (1968), or Symphony #10 (1975).

While I haven't listened to these works for a while (all were recorded, I believe, by the Seattle Symphony), I remember some of them being quite powerful works for full orchestra. (Symphony #9, subtitled LE FOSSE ARDEATINE, was inspired by the Italian caves in which resistance fighters were killed, in reprisal, by the fascists in 1944.) I'd leave it to Mr Alsop and Mr Kenyon to choose the symphony, from this set, that they felt was most powerful; and I would save the Schuman Symphony #5 for another Proms concert 18 minute opportunity.

I'd also really love to hear more nominations from others for American luminous symphonic writing. (WETA-FM actually programmed a symphony by Hovahness in late January 2007 during the one week before it realized that they weren't supposed to be broadcasting any Hovahness symphonies (or other American classical music, for that matter) since Hovahness symphonies hadn't been properly market-tested and loaded into their classical top-40 programming software.)
Pliable said…
Garth, another interesting nomination would be Walter Piston's Symphony No. 3. A quite substantial (35 minute) work dating from 1948 (what is it about that decade?).

As I write my LP of that work plays. It is a magnificent sounding Mercury recording with Howard Hanson conducting the Eastman Rochester Orchestra.

Which takes us onto another path. I wrote some time back about Hanson's Symphony No. 2 "The Romantic", but his other symphonies are also well worth exploring. The Mercury coupling with Piston's 3rd is Hanson's 4th which was written in memory of his father.
JMW said…
Pliable, I would love to see them program Paul Creston's Symphony No.2, which is IMO the greatest American Symphony. Just by a hair though, because there are so many that are great! Mennin's 7th also comes to mind as does Flagello's 1st. The above along with Copland's 3rd would be my leading choices for any symphony based American program. Then maybe Piston no.6, McKay's Symphony for Seattle, and a whole bunch more. I'm sure Garth and I could go on all day like this.While they're at it, why not call me to do them? I've wanted to do a Prom since like forever!

John McLaughlin Williams
Pliable said…
John McLaughlin Williams' comment is valuable, so I've published it as a separate post.

So if you are commenting specifically on John's comment it may be worth adding your thoughts on the new post.
Civic Center said…
Just about anything by Henry Cowell or Lou Harrison is worth hearing and they aren't played enough live.

As for bizarre encore suggestions to the Nicholas Kenyon evening, the three pieces are all composed by different nationalities in Europe within 50 years of each other, but that seems to be the end of their affinity. How about Spain? "The Sabre Dance" from "El Amor Brujo" by Falla! There we go!
Unknown said…
VW 5 makes me think of Churchill, 1940: "There was a white glow, overpowering, sublime, which ran through our island from end to end."

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