Lambert’s Piano Concerto
David Owen Norris was known to awesomely perform Lambert’s Piano Concerto as if he was the original composed, a fete which earned him much praise and respect during his career.
This post was published by Norris and asserts his opinions and and views.
In 1924, as a nineteen-year-old student at the Royal College of Music, Constant Lambert composed a Concerto for piano, strings, timpani and two trumpets. After his death, it remained in short score in the BBC Music Library, under the strict embargo of the Official Solicitor, though a few illicit copies existed.
The copyright situation was finally regularized by Giles Easterbrook of Maecenas Music. Because of my many successful performances of Lambert’s Rio Grande (of which my chamber version is authorized by OUP) and of his rarely-heard Piano Sonata, I was asked to record the piece with Barry Wordsworth and the BBC Concert Orchestra. This recording is now released commercially by ASV.
The disposition of instruments was pretty clear in Lambert’s short score. Doubtful places were decided by the conductor and me. The piece shows clearly the jazz influences that so attracted Diaghilev to Lambert’s music, and which were later to feature in Rio Grande and the Piano Sonata.
‘David Owen Norris dazzles in the teenage composer’s Piano Concerto.
… does full justice to the glittering solo part (his soft tone is ravishing in its pearly opalescence). Vivid, truthfully-balanced recording … Most enjoyable and valuable.’
Gramophone, February 2000
Schubert’s Kosegarten Songs
In 1996 I met Morten Solvik, a scholar working in Vienna, who had just discovered that Schubert’s Kosegarten settings written in 1815 formed a dramatic cycle, probably for performance in convivial circumstances by an indeterminate number of soloists. His work depended upon the significance of pencilled numbers on the manuscripts.
The songs, previously thought to be slight and mainly uninteresting, took on new stature in context. I undertook to put on the first modern performance of the cycle, in 1997 at the Steans Institute for Singers at the Ravinia Festival in Chicago, of which I was the Chairman. I accompanied the songs on a fortepiano. Solvik and I prepared a version of the cycle performable in modern concert conditions as far as dramatic presentation and personnel were concerned, while sticking exactly to Schubert’s notes.
For the UK premiere in Oxford in September 1999 I collaborated with Elizabeth Norman McKay. We further revised the allocation of songs to character, and we found that some alternative settings of some poems were in fact complementary. This version was recorded and is now issued commercially on my own label, Dogstar Records.
Bax, the great dissembler
The foremost Bax scholar, Lewis Foreman, wrote in his definitive study Bax: a composer and his times, published in 1983:
‘in a scorching performance such as that given by David Owen Norris at the Purcell Room, London, in June 1979, we realize what a great work [the Second Sonata] is.’
Click e-mail on the side-bar to enquire about programmes including Arnold Bax’s sonatas and chamber music. Click on Unusual Concertos for some information on his works with piano and orchestra.
Arnold Bax and the Culture of Duplicity
– born 1883, died 1953
Some notes from David Owen Norris (born 1953)
Arnold Bax found his identity in a succession of double-lives. He must have delighted in duplicity. In his twenties he seemed to his friends in London to be a millionaire composer with a silver spoon in his mouth. And he was. At the same time his friends in Dublin knew him as a penniless Irish poet, whose Republican views were so extreme that some of his poetry was censored by the British Government. And he was. His name, in his Irish incarnation, was Dermot O’Byrne. For many years he kept these two lives entirely separate, and they only collapsed into one after the Easter Rising of 1917, when O’Byrne lost several friends in the reprisals. The Second Piano Sonata sublimates all these conflicts.
But by this time, Bax had found a new occasion of duplicity, making furtive bike-rides from Amersham to Cheshunt to dally the afternoons away in a hotel with a young – a very young – pianist named Harriet Cohen. On one of these bike-rides in 1917, sheltering from a storm, he conceived the orchestral piece November Woods, which encapsulates the struggle between his heart and his domestic duties. Many of Bax’s shorter piano pieces were written in his enthusiasm for Harriet. She remained his mistress for the rest of his life, or so she thought.
Bax’s wife was of Spanish parentage, and though they separated after a few years of Harriet, they did not divorce. It was generally assumed that this was because she was a Roman Catholic. She ceased to figure in Bax’s life, though he did continue to visit his children – again furtively. A friend met him at Golders Green once, and Bax tried everything to avoid explaining his presence there. Eventually he confessed he’d been visiting his family, but swore the man to secrecy.
After the break-up of his marriage, Bax never owned a home. At the outbreak of War in 1939, he tried a variety of hotels and pubs in Sussex, eventually settling at the White Horse in Storrington for the rest of his life. In 1941, Bax, the former censored Irish Republican, a man who played no part in public musical life, a man who had practically stopped composing, was appointed Master of the King’s Music. Picture Post printed pictures of Bax at the White Horse. ‘He went there for the weekend one fine day in 1940 – and has stayed there ever since’, read the caption. ‘Paradoxically, he rarely listens to music. Once a month he attends concerts in a Sussex country house. His more frequent recreations are billiards, crossword puzzles, village cricket, and a drink and a gossip with the locals.’
When Bax’s wife died in 1948, Harriet Cohen discovered to her rage that she had not been a Catholic after all, and that there had been no bar to divorce. Expecting Bax to marry her even now, she was even more furious to discover that for the past 20 years he had been maintaining another friend, Mary Gleaves, who had been, of course, very young when they first met.