Magazine article Musical Opinion

Old Guard, Newer Guard: The Rest Is Noise

Magazine article Musical Opinion

Old Guard, Newer Guard: The Rest Is Noise

Article excerpt

Curious that the conductors Monteux and Toscanini, who gave fine performances of the Enigma Variations, did not subsequently tackle Elgar's symphonies. I suspect that it was because those symphonies are, especially the first and last movements, subjective in emotional content whereas the Variations are more objective. I suspect that this was the reason for Beecham's highhanded, indeed ruthless, cutting of the First Symphony.

During the year after the premiere of that symphony the hundred or so performances of the work did not suffer the indignity of the Beecham treatment when he reduced the work's fifty or so minutes to a paltry 38. The above thoughts were induced by attending the Barbican concert given by the BBC Symphony Orchestra on January 1 1 when Andrew Litton conducted a programme of British music. He proved himself once again to be yet another American conductor who can be relied on to get right inside the music of our composers. My only quibble concerns the extreme loudness of the playing; Litton seems to be suffering from a current delusion of performers: that volume equals intensity. The orchestra responded enthusiastically and virtuosically to his exhortation, strings sang, bugles/trumpets, likewise the muted trombones as they quietly barked out that four-chord phrase at the close of the Adagio, letting us hear Elgar's genius for inventing short phrases that are truly memorable.

In 1938 Benjamin Britten played the solo part in his new Piano Concerto, a dazzling performance (I heard it on the wireless) of a work that could only be written by a young man (curly-mop was just 25 at the time). …

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