The notes tell us that Jacobson, by the age of sixteen could play the whole of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier
and all 32 Beethoven piano sonatas from memory; clearly quite a phenomenon. His music studies were interrupted by the Great War but were picked up where they left off after the Armistice. He was a fine accompanist who worked with the tenor John Coates. From the mid-1920s he became a very senior figure in the music publishers J. Curwen & Sons. After the Second World War he was a moving force in founding the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain. An OBE followed in 1971. Immersion in musical academe and commerce he found time for composition. What we have here is a pretty generous collection of his music. It's predominantly for piano, mostly solo but some for four hands. There are also three works for piano and cello and two for voice and piano. The music belongs to the decade and a half running from 1935. What we hear is tuneful, succinct and occasionally pastoral.
We start with the piano pieces. Mosaic
is a piano duet piece. It's not particularly memorable but is certainly melodic. Its language belongs with similar format works from Lambert, Rawsthorne and Benjamin. There's even something of Milhaud's Scaramouche
about it. The Music Room
is an early suite of five brightly polished miniatures. It's again in the lighter English school. Of the five, Brown Study
takes the listener to the same troubled world as Bax's Winter Waters
. Romantic Theme and Variations
tends on the marmoreal Brahmsian side but among the six variations there are some moments of rather English musing (tr.13) among the craggy grandeur (tr.15). Carousal
mixes the carnival quality of Benjamin's Rumba
with the joyous cavalcade of Howells Processional
. The other Theme and Variations
bears witness to a restless creative talent. It runs the gamut from rustic Englishry, jackanapes escapades à la Moeran and Howells, Irish jiggery to a fugue under the dead academic hand. A fine English lyric inspiration rises, at the end, to the aural image of windows thrown wide to view both darkling plains and light-filled fields.
The first work for cello and piano is Salcey Lawn
with its fine singing line and strong memorable content. It would go well in the company of the short chamber works by Moeran and Howells. This is one of the points where Jacobson touches base with the English pastoralists. Lament
for cello and piano traces a long and musingly disconnected line; an attractive downbeat. The Humoresque
is a determined, happy and fast-paced song with the odd cloud hinted at rather than stated.
There are two songs. The Lord is my Shepherd
was extracted from his David
ballet written in 1936 for the same Dolin-Markova company season that also mounted Holbrooke's Aucassin and Nicolette
. It's a work of recessed devotional concentration. The other is The Song of Songs
from ten years later. This time the music and atmosphere are akin to those of Howells' King David —
it has the same supple and exalted quality.
The booklet notes are by the pianist Julian Jacobson who is the composer's son. They are in English only. The sung texts are also included but can also be found on the Naxos website
This project benefited from generous monetary input from The Michael Hurd Bequest.
I do not recall Maurice Jacobson works figuring in any mixed recital discs so it's valuable at last to have a whole disc devoted to his music.
As for the performances they feel right ... although how can one tell? It is however more than reassuring to read the words of the composer's son, Julian Jacobson: "In preparing this recording, I had the benefit of studying some of my father’s manuscripts and personal copies. An eminently practical musician, he left many pencil markings on the scores, such as (for instance) a complete set of suggested metronome marks for the Romantic Theme and Variations, as well as various suggestions for dynamics and expression. I have tried to use these to get closer to his intentions."
The ground having been prepared let me implore music's entrepreneurs — perhaps Lyrita or David Hill and Naxos — to turn their attention now to Jacobson's masterwork. His 40 minute setting of Francis Thompson's The Hound of Heaven
for tenor, mixed choir and orchestra is one of the greats of the British 20th century choral library. This work can be counted in the company of two other major neglected yet inspirational choral works: Cyril Rootham's Ode on the Morning of Christ's Nativity
and Robert Nathaniel Dett's The Ordering of Moses
Meantime this generous anthology of Jacobson's smaller-scale works will please and intrigue.