Music in its perfection is not ostentatious


Vernon 'Tod' Handley, who died ten years ago today, was fond of quoting Sir Joshua Reynolds' dictum that 'Art in its perfection is not ostentatious'. In an uncharacteristically thoughtful tribute Norman Lebrecht wrote that;
Conductors are not famous for knowing their limitations, nor are they short on ambition. Tod belonged to a dying breed who rejected the American requirement that every maestro must be an all-rounder, performing Bach, Boulez and Beatles arrangements with equal serenity. He believed a conductor's duty was to deliver the music he felt most strongly about. He was the last specialist British conductor.
Today the chattering classes are tweeting about 'discovering' Charles Villiers Stanford following the performance of his amuse-bouche 'The Blue Bird' at the Last Night of the Proms. But in the 1980s Tod was recording a groundbreaking cycle of Stanford's seven symphonies, one of which had been conducted by Gustav Mahler, no less, in New York in 1910. It is a scandal that Tod never received the civic recognition in Britain that he so deserved. But his music making in all its unostentatious perfection - probably the greatest example is the cycle of Bax symphonies - will live on decades after the popular culture icons who fill today's civic lists are forgotten.

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Comments

Joe Shelby said…
I have his Bax, Stanford, and Simpson symphony cycles, and they are all regular listening in my queues.
Pliable said…
Yes Joe, it was remiss of me not to mention of Tod's cycle of Robert Simpson's Symphonies. But I'm not holding my breath waiting for the chattering classes to 'discover' Robert Simpson's music.
JMW said…
Handley has certainly been an influence on my repertoire choices. I wish we had more "specialist" conductors. Concert life would be much more interesting.
mathias broucek said…
Lots to be said for conductors focusing on the works they love best....

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