Concerto for Violin and Small Orchestra, Op.11 Morgan
Violin Concerto Banks
Concerto for Violin and Orchestra
Yfrah Neaman (violin) [Fricker & Banks]
Erich Gruenberg (violin)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Norman Del Mar [Fricker & Banks]
Fricker & Banks recorded July 1973 in All Saints, Tooting, London; Morgan recorded 28 April 1976 in Kingsway Hall, London
CD No: LYRITA SRCD.276 Duration: 76 minutes Reviewed: April 2008
Lyrita – Violin Concertos by Fricker, Morgan & Banks
Reviewed by Peter Joelson
This trio of Lyrita recordings of three violin concertos from the second half of the last century is ripe for reassessment. The Fricker and Banks concertos first appeared on an Argo LP; the Morgan was a Lyrita recording originally coupled with his Contrasts (already issued on Lyrita SRCD.318) a very recommendable issue entitled Premières and Encores.
Peter Racine Fricker (1920-1990) entered the Royal College of Music in 1937, studying theory and composition with R. O. Morris; after war service in the Royal Air Force he resumed his studies with Mátyás Seiber. His First Symphony was premiered by Barbirolli in 1950 and soon after he completed the Violin Concerto, which went on to win the Arts Council Festival of Britain competition for young composers, and was first performed by Maria Lidka and the London National Orchestra under Walter Goehr in January 1951.
The work is witty, urbane and unpretentious, and the reduced orchestra allows the soloist’s details full rein as well as transparency in the orchestral writing. The atonal composition is approachable without difficulty for the listener; there are many exquisite passages to be savoured, including delightful writing for violin and harp. A reflective Andante is interrupted by an energetic middle section and spiky Allegro vivo brings the work to a brilliant close.
Don Banks (1923-1980) was an Australian who after studying at the Melbourne Conservatory lived and worked in London from 1950 to 1972, initially studying there with Seiber. After returning to Australia he became, in 1973, chairman of the music board of the Australian Council for the Arts, though increasingly ill with leukaemia for the last eight years of his life. He was influenced very early on by his father’s involvement in a dance band and his affinity with jazz lasted his whole life.
Banks’s Violin Concerto was written in 1968 and is a dark, brooding, unsmiling work, premiered at the BBC Proms in that year by Wolfgang Marschner and the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Norman Del Mar. Banks has supplemented his income in the 1960s writing scores for Hammer Films and there is a touch of that here in the more monstrous episodes of the concerto. The work calls for a large orchestra, with prominent percussion, and the writing includes note-clusters and complex rhythms as the arguments between soloist and orchestra ensue.
Yfrah Neaman has the full measure of both works and his crystalline tone suits their ethos completely. Committed performances under Norman Del Mar are well recorded, though the orchestra is set a little too far back. However, the warm acoustic does allow details to register and climaxes to expand comfortably.
David Morgan (1933-1988) is the least known of the three composers on this disc. The Lyrita LP with the Violin Concerto and Contrasts was the only introduction to Morgan’s work on record. He began his studies at the Royal Academy of Music aged 28, attending classes in composition with Alan Bush and orchestration with Leighton Lucas.
Morgan won a British Council scholarship in 1966 that let him study in Prague for a year, and the concerto was written and first performed there, in April 1967. Erich Gruenberg gave a private performance in 1974, followed by a very well received concert at the Royal Festival Hall, this recording following two years later. Morgan was affected by the political situation in Prague at the time; Alexander Dubček had not yet become leader after the Prague Spring of 1968 and the country was still led by those kept in power by Brezhnev. The conflict between an individual’s hopes, fears and despair, and the unassailable state provided the inspiration for this big, magnificent concerto. Morgan wrote, “… the individual is becoming more and more powerless and is slowly being crushed by forces he can neither control nor resist.”
The orchestra for this work is large, with much percussion instruments contributing importantly to the rich colours Morgan obtains. There are hints of Shostakovich and Walton though no pastiche. After a Lento introduction, the first movement’s Moderato cantabile has two main ideas, for the violin and for flute and strings. An Alla marcia section follows with the brutal brass coercing the violin’s involvement. The movement ends with a tam-tam stroke dying away into the distance. The second movement, more sparely written, is a dark scherzo, with menacing brass full of snarls and vitriol. Strikingly, the movement dies to an end with a glissando on strings divided into 22 parts. The finale is sardonic and ironic.
Erich Gruenberg makes an excellent case for this work, weaving his part with complete understanding through the antipathy of the orchestra, conducted with authority by Vernon Handley. Morgan’s piece is blessed with very fine recording quality, a Kingsway Hall production with better balance than in the other two concertos. This is yet another valuable and generous release from Lyrita.