b. 1953, Birmingham, UK
Solicitor in UK local government – retired since 2013. Brought up in Torquay, Devon. After eight years at Plymouth (1978-1986) moved to Western Isles, Scotland (1986-1998) and then Halton Borough Council (1998-2013). Lives with his wife Chris in the North-West of England. Two grown-up children both away from home now; one living in Sussex; the other near Warrington.
Rob does not come from a musical family, has no technical musical training and cannot play an instrument. Such knowledge as he has comes from a delight in listening to music, a questing attitude and many formative years of exchanging recordings with contacts and friends in the USA, Scandinavia and the UK. Add to this reading such fine magazines as Records and Recordings (long defunct), Gramophone (now a very different voice from its glory days in the 1960s and 1970s) and Fanfare (still going strong and still well worth reading) and following BBC Radio 3.
His disorganised collection of CDs, LPs and cassettes continues to be a source of pleasure, frustration, stimulation and knowledge. His involvement since 1998 (not quite the very start) in Dr Len Mullenger's MusicWeb International has provided privileged opportunities to learn about music. He is the site's Founding Editor. He laments the passing of Robert Simpson's 1970s and 1980s radio series ‘The Innocent Ear’ when Simpson would play recordings of pieces and only identify them after the music had ended. Recalls the pleasure of discovering Rubbra Symphony 1 and some of the symphonies of contemporaries of Mozart and Beethoven in this way.
Spent far too little time attending real concerts while working. With the profusion of fine unusual repertoire covered in the North-West of England, often by highly skilled community orchestras and by the BBCPO and RLPO, he has attended more concerts since 1998 than in all the previous two decades and even more since retirement in 2013. Memorable among these are the Stockport Symphony Orchestra's Malcolm Arnold Symphony 5 (extremely moving); RLPO/Pešek's Asrael in Symphony Hall, Mark Elder's Bax Spring Fire at the RAH, Finzi's Clarinet Concerto at Buxton and then Stockport with the redoubtable Geoffrey Smith, Moeran's Symphony with the Sheffield Symphony Orchestra and John Longstaff – a conductor who should be on the international stage - and Bax Symphonies 1 and 6 (Handley/BBCPO, Manchester).
Rob came to classical music not via Beethoven, Brahms and Bach. Introduced during his technical college years in 1969-71 via a friend's record collection of Janacek, Stravinsky, Sibelius, Tchaikovsky, Martinu, Bax and Vaughan Williams. Key works from that era included: Janácek Sinfonietta and Glagolitic Mass; Stravinsky The Rite and Firebird; Sibelius Tapiola, Symphony No. 5, Martinu Symphony No. 4; Bax Symphony No. 5; RVW Tallis Fantasia and Symphonies 5 and 6, Brahms Symphony 3 and Piano Concerto 2, Rachmaninov Symphonic Dances (Kondrashin), Tchaikovsky Symphony 4, Manfred and Francesca da Rimini. Believes that people with the spark of interest in or curiosity about classical music should not be afraid of going direct to the more unusual repertoire rather than feeling they must start with Bach, Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven and work their way through. MusicWeb International should play its part in making recommendations both of performances and repertoire. Unusual linkages between works can often lead to welcome discoveries.
Rob has been a member of British Music Society (BMS) since 1981 shortly after the Society was founded. He was editor of the quarterly BMS newsletter from 1995 to 2012 after a one year stint as editor of the annual BMS journal. He is a holder of the Society’s Berkeley Medal. Retirement has provided time not only for reviews but also in a very amateur way for rescuing rare recordings from vinyl, audio cassettes and tape reels and transferring these to CDR.
He has been an enthusiast for fine neglected music since the early 1970s. Notable interests: 20th century orchestral romantics: USA, Scandinavia (just listen to the magically poised opening bars of Madetoja's Symphony No. 2), Europe and Australasia, USSR/Russia, British.
Rates the wildly imaginative music of Arnold Bax very highly and on an international stage. Bax's best works (Piano Quintet, Symphony No. 6, November Woods, Winter Legends) have a desperate beauty and crushing emotional impact paralleled by very few composers of any era.
Granville Bantock is also a special interest - among many others. Bantock's Omar Khayyam (soloists, chorus, orchestra) is a magnificent and moving tapestry of music and philosophy. Bantock's similarly-specified Song of Songs is also likely to yield great rewards. Both Bantock's red-blooded fantasy and lyrical style leaves the staid, lachrymose and somewhat mournful glories of Gerontius in the gloomiest of shades. There is a 1979 BBC tape of the complete Omar conducted by Norman Del Mar and this resoundingly excellent version has now been issued by Lyrita.
Cannot understand why BBC Radio 3 ignores (or largely ignores) so much fine orchestral music (Hovhaness, Braga Santos, Pettersson, Nystroem, Schuman, Harris (Roy), Marx, Goossens) but nevertheless cherishes the service. The BBC Proms programme remains a history of missed opportunities: when for example will we get a Roy Harris Symphony other than No. 3 (No. 7 cries out for attention) or Joseph Marx's Herbstsymphonie instead of the standard fare?
Other musical pleasures include the operas and musicals of Stephen Sondheim (outstanding among these are Sweeney Todd, Into the Woods and Passion), the film music of Herrmann, Waxman, Friedhofer (try the score for The Best Years of Our Lives) and Korngold, the music of Capercaillie, Granuaile by Shaun Davey, The Chieftains (do try to hear their Mná na h-Éireann - The Women of Ireland) and the modern popular Celtic revivals in the Gaelic periphery. One of these days he hopes to see issued a recording of Eddie McGuire's magical arrangements for soprano and orchestra of five Gaelic folk-songs. Already enthralled by Canteloube's Songs of the Auvergne? - then the McGuire is a delight in waiting and (thank God) not a hint of tartan, kilts or shortcake about it.
Enjoys attempting reviews of CDs ignored or treated with scant attention by the major review magazines. Still learning. Still wanting to learn.
Particularly welcomes reviews written in a style accessible to the beginner yet with enough insight and comparative knowledge to inform, entertain and encourage the practised hand.
Rob recommends the following pieces of music and would be happy to make and receive other recommendations if you contact him:-
Marx: Castelli Romana (piano and orchestra) and the extravagantly luxuriant HerbstSymphonie given at the RFH in 2017 by the LPO/Jurowski.
Karol Szymanowski's Harnasie (full version) - best heard in the Rowicki recording
Joseph Holbrooke's tone poem Ulalume, Violin Concerto and the other Poe-based tone poems of the 1930s. Rob has spent years researching this composer and contributed to a symposium on Holbrooke.
Rutland Boughton's Hardy opera The Queen of Cornwall. The same composer's The Immortal Hour, while moving - is a shade pallid by comparison. The Queen of Cornwall is a blazing masterpiece and might be seen as an example of Boughton as the British-Celtic Puccini.
Othmar Schoeck's Violin Concerto and the atmospherically moonlit Sommernacht for strings. I am pleased that Jecklin have enabled the issue of their 12 CD set of his songs in a single box. Christopher Walton’s Schoeck biography is a magnificent achievement - don't miss it.
Josef Suk's Asrael Symphony and War Triptych (Talich for Asrael and Klima for the War Triptych on Supraphon)
Arthur Benjamin's Symphony (best heard in the Lyrita version) and the Romantic Fantasy for violin, viola and orchestra – if only someone would get permission to issue the PBS broadcast version of the Fantasy with the Pasquale brothers as soloists and Ormandy conducting the Philadelphia. Breathtaking musicmaking.
Janis Ivanovs Violin Concerto (Campion CD). Irresistible.
Karlowicz Violin Concerto (various versions)
Prokofiev Violin Concerto No. 1 (Szigeti/Beecham)
Sibelius Symphony No. 7 (Mravinsky)
Prokofiev Symphony No. 7 (Anosov and Kurtz), Romeo and Juliet (Rozhdestvensky)
Uuno Klami: Psalmus (Warner-Finlandia)
Janácek Sinfonietta (Serebrier - Reference Recordings)
Joly Braga Santos Symphony No. 4 (Portusom and Marco Polo CDs); the first three symphonies are pretty good too.
Edgar Bainton's Third Symphony - a glimmeringly visionary work once recorded by the Australian BROLGA LP label and now in a fresh recording by Dutton
Allan Pettersson Symphony No. 7 (Dorati) and Symphony No. 9 – would that someone would reissue those 1970s Philips LPs of the version of No. 9 conducted by Sergiu Comissiona.
Leevi Madetoja Symphony No. 2 (Warner Apex - the best version - conducted by Paavo Rautio). The latest one by Storgårds on Ondine is extremely good
Valentin Silvestrov Symphony No 5 (BMG Melodiya)
Miaskovsky Symphonies - all of them really but start with 5 conducted by Konstantin Ivanov; move on to 24 and 25 and then 21, and the Violin Concerto
Kurt Atterburg: Three Interludes from Fanal, Symphony 3, Concertos for cello, violin and piano
Gosta Nystroem Sinfonia del Mare (Swedish Society Discofil and Bis) and the opera Herr Arnes Penningar
Roy Harris Symphony 7 (Ormandy version on Albany)
William Schuman Symphony No. 3 (CBS Bernstein) and Violin Concerto (Zukofsky DG)
Eugene Goossens Symphonies 1 and 2 (ABC Classics and Chandos) – we also need a recording of the fascinating but lower key Phantasy Concerto for violin
Louis Glass Symphony No. 5 - you must hear this! (not the Marco Polo version) – a wonderful Danish Radio broadcast conducted by Schønwandt won me around. The Danacord version is better but lacking the intensity of inner light projected by Schønwandt.
Constant Lambert’s Music for Orchestra - now available on Dutton with the composer and on Lyrita with Norman Del Mar. You need to look past the pasty-faced title to this compactly yet eloquently expressed music. It has a glorious symphonic-romantic tread.
Maurice Jacobson's The Hound of Heaven, for tenor, chorus and orchestra - one of the masterpieces of the British musical renaissance yet still unrecorded and very rarely performed
Robert Nathaniel Dett's 1930s oratorio The Ordering of Moses - at long last revived and available on a CD from Bridge.
Maurice Johnstone's Dover Beach and the superb orchestral rhapsody Tarn Hows (ASV).
Eric Fogg's gorgeous Sea-Sheen (now on Dutton).
Irish orchestral works of the last century - Norman Hay's Dunluce and The Wind Among the Reeds as well as Ina Boyle's The Magic Harp, her two symphonies (Glencree and Dream of the Rood) and Psalm for Cello and Orchestra.