Classical Reissue Reviews

Sir Malcolm Sargent: An Evening at the Proms – Light music of SULLIVAN, TCHAIKOVSKY, DVORAK, CHABRIER, LITOLFF, ELGAR – Guild

An authentic Last Night at the Proms, mostly 1959, recreated by Guild, revives our sense of what magic “Flash Harry” Sargent could conjure up for the British public.

Published on October 14, 2012

Sir Malcolm Sargent: An Evening at the Proms – Light music of SULLIVAN, TCHAIKOVSKY, DVORAK, CHABRIER, LITOLFF, ELGAR – Guild

Sir Malcolm Sargent: An Evening at the Proms = SULLIVAN: Overture di Ballo; TCHAIKOVSKY: Tatiana’s Letter Scene from Eugene Onegin; Andante cantabile from String Quartet in D, Op. 11 (arr. Schmid); DVORAK: Slavonic Dance in E Minor, Op. 72, No. 2; HOLST: Beni Mora Oriental Suite, Op. 29, No. 1; CHABRIER: Fete Polonaise; LITOLFF: Scherzo from Concerto symphonique in D Minor, Op. 102; ELGAR: Pomp and Circumstance March in D Major, Op. 39, No. 1 – Joan Hammond, sop./ Shura Cherkassky, p./ BBC Sym. Orch./ Sir Malcolm Sargent – Guild GHCD 2393, 72:43 [Distr. by Albany] ****:

Who better than Sir Malcolm Sargent (1895-1967) to lead us through an evening at the London Proms, when we consider it was he who re-popularized the tradition – set originally by Sir Henry Wood – after World War II?  Sargent, working with the new Controller of the London Proms, William Glock, instituted a new sort of repertory for the public that would include “What they will like tomorrow.” The stable of possible entries opened up to include contemporary compositions, even if they might prove “a chamber of horrors” to some conservative tastes. Flamboyant, dapper, and  the perennial bon-vivant, Malcolm Sargent managed to consolidate musical tastes and sell the musical results to the public; and this disc, culled mostly from 1959 inscriptions, testifies to a broad and catholic taste that does not “horrify.” The one 1956 inscription, of the Holst Beni Mora Oriental Suite, certainly attempts to expand the public’s notion of the composer and his “exotic” predilections.

The Sullivan Overture di Ballo (1889) opens the concert (15 September 1959), a piece molded after Nicolai or Suppe that struts easily musical styles in the form of a polonaise, waltz, and galop. The rendition, lucid and transparently compelling, highlights the BBC choirs most effectively, especially the woodwinds and strings. Australian soprano Joan Hammond (1912-1996) joins Sargent (1 August 1959) for Tchaikovsky’s “Letter Scene” from Evgeny Onegin, sung in a clear resonant English. The scene, rife with impetuous passion, burns with the usual conceits of fire and ice, ardor and guilt, as Tatiana confesses her love to Onegin. “Are you angel or devil?” laments Tatiana in her ecstasy, described in glowing orchestral timbres by the BBC. No wonder various soloists with Sargent dubbed him their “guardian angel” in his perfect complement to their own art. The same composer’s Andante cantabile (19 September 1959) in an arrangement by Schmid, projects a delicate intimacy reminiscent of the Barber Adagio but without the bitter anguish.

Most affectionate, the one Slavonic Dance, in E Minor, seems to have been a Sargent staple, and its clear delivery of the Staradavny cross-rhythms and fluent harmonies proves as alluring as anything we have by Talich, Kubelik, or Mackerras. The Holst suite Beni Mora (1909; performed here 29 August 1956)) exists as the result of his frustration with his opera Sita, and his subsequent sojourn to Algeria to recover his confidence. Holst took the title from a novel by Hitchens, The Garden of Allah, later to become a film starring Charles Boyer, Marlene Dietrich, and Basil Rathbone. The third movement of the three dances, “In the Streets of the Ouled Nails,” features a tune Holst heard on a bamboo flute. The cleverness of the orchestration has gleaned for Holst the appellation as his first “mature” orchestral composition. The brightly colored “lollipops” (Beecham’s epithet for popular classics) by Chabrier, Litolff, and Elgar shine with their respective glitter and panache. Shura Cherkassky performs at his usual colorist best in the Litolff; and, most appropriately, the Elgar March in D appeared at the Last Night of the Proms (19 September 1959).  Despite the virtually ubiquitous presence of this piece, it assumes under “Flash Harry,” as Sargent was popularly known, a demonic string propulsion and splendor in the horn work and snare drum that revives the blood. “Impeccable” would be the apt judgment the critics would make then, and it works no less well for us now.  Applause by the way, at the very entrance of Sargent and at his last chords in the Elgar.

—Gary Lemco




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