On the wireless - operas

Havergal Brian

Selected and annotated by Malcolm MacDonald

Brian seems to have been quite an enthusiastic radio-listener in the interwar years, and many of his 'La main gauche' columns comment on broadcasts that took his attention, as here:

I have not yet appeared before the 'mike', and my attendance at the receiver is fitful and fretful. However, I did get on to Basle successfully the other night and picked up the Beethoven programme by the Concert Orchestra under Felix Weingartner. It was superbly done, and included a beautiful performance of the Violin Concerto by a local artist vice a singer indisposed. Next night, Stuttgart gave me gramophone records: so I got back into Switzerland and from Zurich, inter alia, heard Gaspar Cassado play Dvorak's violoncello concerto, his elegant and refined playing reminding me of Suggia.

I fear the Editor will cut short my further meanderings in Alsace or Switzerland, so I will get over the Alps and down to Naples, where at San Carlo they were doing that wonderful vocal symphony known as Tristan and Isolde, only they were still retaining the singers, who were superb. What an experience it would be to hear this work for once without the singers! In no other opera did Wagner lavish such love on the orchestra, particularly on woodwind and horns, which came through with entrancing clearness. On another occasion, from Rome, I heard a selection from Boris Godounoff, which I followed with the Oxford Press edition before my eyes, only to find that the 'cuts' were considerable. What impressed me most was the ease of the Italian singers, and particularly the nonchalant manner in which the Dmitri took his highest notes.

In a recent radio paragraph I spoke of hearing from Rome Malipiero's Sette canzoni, for soprano, tenor, and baritone soloists and orchestra. To my great pleasure, Chester's, the English publishers of Malipiero's works, gave me an opportunity of studying this unusual sequence of songs3. They are by no means milk and water, for Malipiero's impressionism has a sharp and bitter flavour which fixes one's attention. He is a somewhat solitary figure in Italy, and has in his nature and work much that is akin to his sixteenth century countryman, Monteverdi.

  1. Unusual indeed, in that Sette canzoni is actually catalogued among Malipiero's stage works, a sequence of seven mini-operas in song form (themselves comprising the middle panel of his operatic trilogy L'Orfeide). ↩︎

On the other hand, by La main gauche

Musical opinion, April 1932, p. 590