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Peter Racine FRICKER (1920-1990)
Concerto for Violin and Small Orchestra Op. 11 (1950, rev. 1974) [23:25]
David MORGAN (1933-1988)
Violin Concerto (1966) [26:02]
Don BANKS (1923-1980)
Concerto for Violin and Orchestra (1968) [26:55]
Yfrah Neaman (violin) (Fricker; Banks)
Erich Gruenberg (violin) (Morgan)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Norman Del Mar (Fricker; Banks); Vernon Handley (Morgan)
rec. July 1973, All Saints, Tooting, London (Fricker, Banks); 28 April 1976, Kingsway Hall, London (Morgan). ADD;
Originally issued on LP: Argo ZRG 715 (Fricker, Banks); Lyrita SRCS97 (Morgan).
LYRITA SRCD.276 [76:26]
Experience Classicsonline

Back in the early nineteen-seventies, when I first began to collect British music records in general and Lyrita in particular, these three composers and their works would have been ‘beyond the pale.’ In the musical circles I moved in, none of them would have had a following. I have since come to learn that David Morgan was an unknown quantity to virtually everyone interested in music - both now and then - to the loss of all concerned.
In those days, Peter Racine Fricker was seen as being something of an enfant terrible – writing music that owed more to Schoenberg and Webern than Vaughan Williams and Walton. In fact the only work I had heard by Fricker was the Prelude, Fugue and Elegy for Strings. This was released on an old Pye Golden Guinea record coupled with music by Alan Rawsthorne. The passing of time has not dealt fairly with poor old Fricker. A brief look at the Arkiv catalogue shows only a half dozen works from his large worklist currently available on CD. I have certainly never heard his Violin Concerto before receiving this review copy.
David Morgan is an enigma. There is virtually no information about him on the web. He does not have an entry in Grove. There are only a handful of references to his recorded music – and I am not sure they refer to this particular Morgan anyway. The fact remains that apart from one sadly underrated Lyrita release from the late ’seventies, there are no opportunities to evaluate his music. Recently Lyrita re-released the superb Contrasts on one of their compilation discs (SRCD318 - see review) – where it does not really sit comfortably.
As for Don Banks my ‘set’ would have regarded him as part of the avant-garde – someone who wrote for electronic media and as such was probably not a welcome figure at most classical concerts of the day. It was a name I recall hearing but I cannot think where – perhaps at a concert at Glasgow University? Yet, I guess for a generation that lay on the floor listening to Stockhausen, Banks would have seemed passť!
In the intervening years I have not been introduced to Don Banks music – although I know that he had a wider expertise than composing for the Moog Synthesiser. It came as a bit of a shock to realise that he had done commercial work for the Hammer Horror film studios; and not only films but cartoons too. And then there was jazz. So I, like many other folk have probably heard a lot of Banks without being aware of it.
The Violin Concerto for small orchestra Op.11 was composed by Peter Racine Fricker in 1950. It was badly received by at least one reviewer in Music & Letters (April 1952). He understands the work to be ‘vital’ and depicting the ‘spirit of the age’ yet he argues that ‘surely beauty must be present in some form’. He notes that other critics had lauded this work and he deduces that ‘they’ must see something in this work that is ‘apparent to some and not to others’.
Yet listening to this Concerto some 58 years further down the road, I am impressed by its sheer lyricism. Surely there is a ‘beauty’ in the opening ‘con moto’ movement that is obvious to all but the most ardent opponents of anything more modern in its soundscape that Elgar! The language that Fricker uses does owe much to the spirit of the age – with the exception of jazz. Yet this is not a serial work as such – it is fair to say that it appears to be very much in a tonal idiom without ever abandoning the dissonance that was a characteristic of his style. This work is a well balanced essay that does not deserve to have sunk into obscurity. Like Rob Barnett, I know very little of his music. But from what I have heard his reputation is surely due for reappraisal - hopefully by a raft of CDs and performances.
If I had heard the Don Banks Violin Concerto when it was originally recorded I would have positively disliked it. I would have found it confused and disjointed - a random patchwork of sounds that seems to avoid coherent patterns. It is amazing what a third of a century of music-listening does for ones ears. I think that this is a fantastic piece. From the first movement’s opening lento - through the iridescent allegro section with its shades of orchestral colour and changes of mood and tempo this work impresses. The second movement builds on the dark and haunting opening passage for the orchestra before the soloist enters with subdued tones. This is beautifully poised playing that explores a huge variety of string technique by the soloist. The final ‘risoluto’ is by far the most turbulent part of this work. Yet there is really nothing here that should put off the adventurous listener. The music is well written, often lyrical and always full of interest. It may not be my favourite on this release but it is impressive, demanding and vital. Furthermore there are passages of exceptional beauty in these pages. It is a work that repays study.
For me the highlight of this CD is the David Morgan Violin Concerto written in 1966. Rob Barnett in his review has rightly pointed out that there are nods towards Walton, Szymanowski and Vaughan Williams. He also suggests that it is more approachable than Fricker’s offering. I am not sure that I agree. I accept that the musical language is typically a little less astringent – but I feel that the deeply personal nature – the composer calls it “the most comprehensively and openly autobiographical” of his work makes it slow to reveal its beauties. It is a complex work, lasting nearly half an hour. However it never ceases to maintain interest and the variety of its material is constantly revealing new beauties and challenges. There are some impressive passages that move well beyond the palettes of RVW and Walton. I believe that if this work was allowed to have its head, it would truly rival both the Walton, and dare I say it the Elgar! It is one of the great British violin concertos.
This is certainly one of the most exciting releases that have formed part of the Lyrita re-release programme. The quality of sound is perfect. The playing of the soloists, Yfrah Neaman and Erich Gruenberg, is stunning. The programme notes are in depth and allow the listener to come to terms with all three of these stimulating works.
John France

see also review by Rob Barnett

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