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ARTHUR HINTON’S PIANO CONCERTO, Lambeth Orchestra, Christopher Fifield, March 2002 (LF)



At St Luke’s, West Norwood on Saturday 23 March 2002, the Lambeth Orchestra and their conductor Christopher Fifield were joined by the American pianist Dan Franklin Smith for the revival of the four movement Piano Concerto in D minor by Arthur Hinton (1869-1941), which ran for around 31 minutes. Hinton’s birth and death dates give us the clue: he is the exact contemporary of Walford Davies, and although one encounters his name from time to time in connection with the musical scene at the beginning of the twentieth century, other than some piano miniatures played literally decades ago by Frank Laffitte, I cannot remember having heard anything by him before, though he has long been on my list of names to explore. The Piano Quintet, Violin Sonata and a programmatic piano suite A Summer Pilgrimage in the White Mountains (all published) look comparatively inexpensive and rewarding ways to explore further.

Hinton is a shadowy figure who briefly seemed to be up-and-coming before the First World war but is now less well remembered than his wife, the pianist Katharine Goodson whom he married in 1903 and who gave the first performance of his Piano Concerto in D minor in 1905. (Could Goodson be the only major musician to be born in Watford? [Gerald Moore was born there - LM]) In fact for us Goodson is also long forgotten because although she lived well into the era of LP she appears not to have been recorded, despite a big reputation in her prime.

Born at Beckenham, Kent, Arthur Hinton studied at the Royal Academy of Music in the 1880s where his composition teacher was F W Davenport, the former Principal MacFarren’s son in law. The same Davenport who took the first prize from Stanford in the 1876 Alexandra Palace Symphony competition. Hinton was a contemporary of Bantock at the Academy but does not appear to have had the same youthful revolutionary impulse, a conservatism underlined when later Hinton studied with Rheinberger at Munich where his first symphony was played. A second Symphony was heard at the Royal College in 1903. (For other intending pioneers, Hinton’s scores and parts are at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.) When Bantock promoted his celebrated concert of works by the new young composers at Queen’s Hall in December 1896, all of them except one by Bantock himself yet to be explored again, Hinton was one of the composers he programmed.

Possibly one of the reasons Hinton is not well remembered is that at key points in his career he was in the USA (he also visited Australia and New Zealand) and so he did not establish a presence in the UK with a succession of new works. Even Dan Godfrey at Bournemouth only gave one work, this Piano Concerto, in 1921 and 1925. The second of these performances was by a young Clifford Curzon. I think Curzon must have been related to Hinton - he certainly studied with Goodson - for whose Concerto he retained some affection. Around 1980 he let it be known that he would be willing to play the concerto without fee if someone would put it on, and Leslie Head and another pioneering amateur orchestra, the Kensington Symphony Orchestra, were considering it when Curzon died and the project fell through. No one considered the work again until the Lambeth Orchestra’s initiative. The Piano Concerto was published by J Fischer in New York in 1920.

The concerto is very much a work of its time. The opening orchestral tutti welling up from a pregnant timpani motif and crowned by the piano’s opening cadenza promises big things, and certainly the big-boned opening movement, with its resonances of Tchaikovsky and Brahms was immediately arresting and placed the concerto in the mainstream of romantic piano concertos, in British music being contemporary with York Bowen, and within a year or two followed by romantic piano concertos by Delius, Edward Isaacs, Holbrooke and Haydn Wood. In fact, although first impressions of the opening movement are of a barnstorming romantic, the later movements are sunny and outgoing, the scherzo with a central waltz, the brief slow movement a nostalgic cor anglais solo (just ten years after The New World Symphony), and overall the piece has a delightful virtuosic geniality.

Although warmly sympathetic for Elgar’s Second Symphony in the second half, the bathroom acoustic of St Luke’s Church did the soloist Dan Franklin Smith no favours in projecting a busy and note-filled solo part. Nevertheless Smith showed himself a fine pianist and a considerable virtuoso in the many passages of flashing octaves and brilliant passage-work. In the more delicate second and fourth movements he maintained an infectious dancing momentum, music reminiscent of Litolff’s celebrated Scherzo and Saint-Saens’ Second Piano Concerto. The orchestra acquitted themselves with remarkable assurance, Christopher Fifield finding sympathetic tempi, though in a drier acoustic or in the studio I can imagine the faster passages having a more gossamer quality, even more fleet-foot and lightweight.

The acoustic worked well for Elgar’s Second Symphony, which had a finely blended sound, with little instrumental detailing, though when one sonority suddenly emerged from the texture, notably the horns, it had all the grand power of fulgent sunlight suddenly striking through threatening clouds. This was an intensely enjoyable view of a great work, virile and warmly expansive, and a triumph for what is after all an amateur orchestra.

The concert opened with Matthew Taylor’s overture The Needles, an evocation of the Isle of Wight coast written a couple of years ago, but it was almost impossible to follow its chiselled outlines and interplay of contrasted colours in the resonant acoustic. Though the players seemed to relish their opportunities I have to say it would be good to hear it again in more sympathetic circumstances. But we went to hear the Hinton, and it proved to be a worthwhile and enjoyable revival; congratulations to all concerned, we will surely hear it again.

Lewis Foreman

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