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George MARSHALL-HALL (1862-1915)
Symphony in E flat/Adagio from Symphony in C minor
Queensland Theatre Orchestra/Warren Bebbington
Recorded 1986
MOVE MD 3081 [46.36]
Distributor: Divine Art Record Company, 31 Beach Road, South Shields, NE33 2QX, UK
Tel +44 191 456 1837 Fax: +44 191 455 2954 web:

George Marshall-Hall (1862-1915) was a pivotal figure in Melbourne from the moment he settled there in 1892 as the first Professor of Music at the city's university. Born in London, he defied his father's wish that he join the Colonial Civil Service and chose music as his career, studying with Stanford and Parry at the Royal College of Music, whose head (Sir George Grove) secured him the Australian post. Marshall-Hall was equally active as a conductor, soon formed an orchestra and established a series of concerts in the city. As many visitors attested, this rose to the best of European standards under its leader's tutelage. He was a total eccentric, apparently a marvellous lecturer, never the dry-as-dust academic, a frequent ruffler of feathers in his unorthodox beliefs, attitudes and tastes, and a controversial poet, all of which soon cost him his Chair in 1900. For the next twelve years he depended upon his compositions and his teaching work at the Conservatoire which he had founded. In 1912 he went back to England to promote himself as a composer, but in 1915 returned, disillusioned by various setbacks, to Melbourne, where, as his successor had conveniently died, he was restored to his former professorship. He died from peritonitis after an appendix operation in the same year. His had been a colourful and energetic life, for he was a man who aroused either fierce controversy or strong loyalty from those with whom he came into contact. It was evidently Percy Grainger who gathered all of Marshall-Hall's scores and papers, and they now are part of the Grainger Museum at the University of Melbourne.

His compositions embraced all forms, operas (either with unprepossessing titles such as Harold, Leonard, or Stella, or over-familiar ones such as Dido and Aeneas or Romeo and Juliet), chamber music, and orchestral works. The Symphony in E flat (1903), dedicated to 'My friends and comrades under the Southern Cross' received fairly frequent performances in Melbourne, but also made it to England where Wood conducted it at a Promenade Concert in London in 1907 (its last known performance before this revival eighty years later), and Nikisch did it in Berlin. Marshall-Hall's eclectic and wide-ranging tastes as a conductor give a clue to his style; he programmed Beethoven, Brahms, Wagner, Rimsky-Korsakov, Debussy and Richard Strauss. In his own words 'it represents in purely lyrical form the manifold impressions of various life upon an ardent, active temperament. Scenes, impressions, passions, activities, continuously succeed each other, as in life itself'. It gets off to a bold rhythmic start, its harmonic language is expressive, its orchestration well judged with no trace of over-thick Teutonic influences (often a trap for would-be Brahms imitators). The Adagio of the C minor Symphony makes no apology for its indebtedness to Wagner's Tristan und Isolde.

The Queensland Theatre Orchestra have a bright, forward sound and (generally) play well. They give a good account of Marshall-Hall's music, which is both attractive and memorable. One assumes that the C minor symphony is complete so why the rest of it, or any other work by Marshall-Hall for that matter was not included to make this CD better value for money is unclear. Another half an hour of music could surely have been added. We have had to wait 15 years since it was recorded to get it on CD (during which time the Queensland Theatre Orchestra appears to have been renamed the Queensland Philharmonic Orchestra). However this reviewer, at least, is grateful for the chance to hear the work. What with the New Zealander Alfred Hill and his numerous symphonies, there is a rich seam of Antipodean music out there which we need to hear.

Christopher Fifield

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