Enduring Legacies

By Holloway, Robin | The Spectator, March 29, 2003 | Go to article overview

Enduring Legacies


Holloway, Robin, The Spectator


Music

We have in recent weeks lost two memorably larer-than-life characters whose contribution to the richness of our musical culture was quite outstanding.

One - Ted Perry, founder and presiding inspiration of Hyperion Records -- elicits a tale of early struggle, lucky break, success, consolidation, triumph. The other - Malcolm Williamson, Master of the Queen's Music - would seem to be the other way about: early promise, rapid recognition of conspicuous brilliance, turning wrong, debouching downhill all the way, to end in what looks ostensibly like failure.

Ted Perry's trajectory has become the stuff of legend; the printer's prentice from Derby, passionate about classical music and excellence in its performance and presentation, learning the trade from the bottom up, eventually to get the bit between his teeth with his own shoestring company, supported by his vending ice-creams and driving a London minicab. Then the unexpected bestseller - Christopher Page's Gothic Voices in the then-unheard-of Hildegard of Bingen - permitting a confident venture into his chosen terrain: choice in every sense, eschewing mainstream symphonic and operatic repertoire well-trampled by the big companies in favour of byways, nooks and crannies, overgrown paths, memory lanes, lands of lost content, green pastures, wayside daisies.

The preponderance of English idylls hit a sure hankering in the market, a desire for the pastoral that sleeps at the heart of all us islanders even after two centuries of industrialisation. Nostalgia was compounded by a series resuscitating defunct piano concertos from the age of virtuoso composer-performers and an explosion of Organ Lollipops that rocks the naves and tickles the aisles.

But it would be manifestly wrong to brand Hyperion with provinciality when, alongside these touching endeavours, they boldly launched out upon such projects as the complete Liszt piano works (still ongoing at 70-plus discs), the symphonies and chamber music of Robert Simpson, the complete Secular Odes of Purcell, then all his anthems and sacred songs; and - for me the supreme achievement amidst so many others - the complete gathering of Schubert's Lieder which has compelled every genuine lover of music to acknowledge that we have hitherto scarcely realised the true breadth of this most astonishing of all composers.

Ted's huge appetite and prompt avidity - `OK I'll do it!' - for quality in all its guises was a prominent feature of the legend. The at-first-glance limited vision was in the end all-embracing; the technical quality was impeccable, the production generous, with an inspired choice of unhackneyed cover-art which makes their printed catalogue a treat for the eye even before the ear begins to explore the treasure within. …

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