Thursday, 15 March 2018

Pubs and the British choral tradition - The Gluepot Connection

"That bloody Gluepot" railed Sir Henry Wood, annoyed by musicians who were late for work because they tarried too long at The George, on the corner of Great Portland Street, adjacent to the old Queen's Hall and near the BBC in Langham Place. The George attracted a close-knit crowd of composers, musicians, poets, artists and writers. It's still around, and thriving, though the clientele has changed, so it's fitting that its past should be remembered in this new recording The Gluepot Connection from SOMM Recordings.  The CD features music from John Ireland, Alan Rawsthorne, Peter Warlock, Arnold Bax, Alan Bush, Elizabeth Lutyens, William Walton and E J Moeran, a few of the many who once thronged therein.  Andrew Griffiths conducts the a capella Londinium Chamber Choir.

The Full Heart is Peter Warlock's earliest choral work, dedicated to the memory of Carlo Gesualdo, an interesting choice of role model for the young Peter Heseltine who was but 21 when he sketched the piece.  The Gesualdo connection probably relates more to musical form, for the piece  employs finely parted chromatics, creating a rapturous work that seems to span centuries.  "O, my companions, Wind, Waters, Stars and Night". The text is by Robert Nicholls, invalided from the Somme, and later a socialite whose friends included Aldous Huxley.  Heseltine heard Frederick Delius's On Craig Ddu (1907) while still a student at Eton, and went on to champion the older composer.  The two pieces complement each other, though Warlock is more stylish.  Beautifully balanced singing from the Londinium Chamber Choir keeps texture clear and clean.  Warlock's The Full Heart is a stand out, on its own worth the price of the CD.

Warlock and Moeran were born in the same year, but had different backgrounds, Heseltine's influences more esoteric and international. He didn't like the John Ireland focus at the Royal College of Music and encouraged Moeran to develop further.  On this recording we hear Moeran's six Songs of Springtime (c. 1931) to poems by Shakespeare and his contemporaries.  Warlock amd Moeran were close, and in this set Warlock's influence is clear : more polyphonic inventiveness built on Renaissance models, yet distinctively of its own time.  These Warlock and Moeran settings shine out out in comparison with the more conventional John Ireland songs, The Hills and Twilight Night. The Hills, written to mark the Coronation in 1953, to a poem by James Kirkup, is chastely hymnal, while Twilight Night,

to a poem by Christina Rossetti, while Victorian, is rather more potent. Two people meet clapsed "as close as oak and ivy stand". They may never again meet "in the accustomed way" but that secret encounter is not erased.  Ireland's setting is straightforward, but the meaning of the text could hardly have been lost on the younger moderns, like Warlock and Moeran, in the more liberated 1920's.
Andrew Griffiths' erudite booklet notes give extensive detail on other habitués of the "gluepot", with so many cross-references that one could probably draw up a flowchart.  He quotes Michael Tippett on the "anti-Britten" clique at the George, ".... a cabal of composers who were trying to debunk Ben (Britten) or undermine his reputation.....they all had great chips on their shoulders and enetrtained absurd fantasies about a homosexual conspiracy in music led by Britten and Pears".  Bigots will always find excuses, hence the homophobia, but the real threat Britten posed was not his sexuality but the fact that his music didn't conform to the assumptions of what "British music" should be.  Frank Bridge opened his horizons to Europe, and WH Auden and Colin MacPhee to the world.  Britten was original, and successful, which created resentment.  Britten won the commission for the Coronation of 1953 with Gloriana, in which Queen Elizabeth I sees through sycophancy and status games. This didn't go down well with some, and for some Britten is still too "modern", though his influence has nurtured whole new generations of British composers and musicians.  Britten didn't do the Gluepot, but he is relevant in context.  He, too, drew inspiration from polyphony and Early Music, as any study of Gloriana will demonstrate.

The Gluepot "cabal" Tippett mentioned centred around Constance Lambert, his wife Isabel Nicholas, who later married Alan Rawsthorne, William Walton, and Elizabeth Lutyens and Alan Bush   Most of these are represented in this collection, apart from Lambert who didn't write a capella choral work.   Rawsthorne's Four Seasonal Songs (1956). The title is slightly misleading, since three of the songs refer to Spring. More multipart harmonics applied to 16th century texts !  In Lutyens' Verses of Love (1970) to a text by Ben Jonson, long lines elide, sounds shimmering.  Walton's Where does the Uttered Music Go ? (1946) was written for the dedication of the memorial window of Sir Henry Wood in the Musicians Chapel in St Sepulchre's where Wood, as a boy, learned to play the organ.  This disc also includes the premiere recordings of Alan Bush's Like Rivers Flowing (1957) with sinuous lines, and Lidice (1947) commemorating the massacre in Lidice by the Nazis.  The mood is hushed, the lines swirling : a secular Requiem. 

Another Gluepot regular was Arnold Bax. His I sing of a maiden (1923)  has charm, but is eclipsed by his Mater ora filium (1921) a substantial (11 minute) masterpiece based on William Byrd's five-part Mass, beefed up for as many as 16 parts, embellished by what Griffiths calls "prodigious extremes of range" (cloaked in) "luscious, late Romantic harmony in myriad different textures". The voices of the Londinium Chamber Choir rise to the task, their voices glowing "Amen, Amen". It's as if a stained glass window were bursting into song !


Narcisse de la Pena said...

Wonderful review. Especially love the last line- It's as if a stained glass window were bursting into song !
Keep up the great work.

Doundou Tchil said...

My pleasure - many thanks !