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CLASSICAL  July 2008

CLASSICAL July 2008

Subject:

Edgar Bainton

From:

Steve Schwartz <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Moderated Classical Music List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 7 Jul 2008 09:29:34 -0700

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text/plain

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Edgar Bainton
Orchestral Music

*  3 Pieces for Orchestra (1920)
*  Pavane, Idyll and Bacchanal (1924)
*  The Golden River, op. 16 (1912).  Concerto fantasia (1920)

Margaret Fingerhut (piano),
BBC Philharmonic/Paul Daniel.
Chandos CHAN10460 Total time: 68:35.

Summary for the Busy Executive: E. Bainton, Gent.

Edgar Bainton (1880-1956) studied with Stanford and had his first
successes early in the century.  Thus, although younger than Vaughan
Williams and Holst, he belongs to that generation we generally describe
as the first wave of the English Musical Renaissance.  Despite all the
horror stories you hear of Stanford as a teacher, all of his successful
students came away from him with at least a first-class composing
technique.  Bainton's own gift was relatively small, however.  He tended
to accept the music around him, rather than to explore -- as even John
Ireland did -- new ways of making it.  In a sense, he was the perfect
academic (which he became both in England and in Australia) -- not that
his music was itself pedantic, but that it was both so assured and so
conventional.

The Golden River, based on a tale by Ruskin, is a case in point.  It's
very well-made -- beautiful, poetic orchestration, a confident handling
of form -- but it's small, even for its fairy-tale genre.  It doesn't
make a lot of ripples as a similar group of miniatures like Holst's Suite
No.  2 for Band or Vaughan Williams's Wasps does, let alone Ravel's Ma
mere l' Oye, all earlier or roughly contemporary.  Indeed, the first
movement, which depicts storm and destruction, could have been written
by Stanford himself, and twenty years earlier, to boot.

The 3 Pieces show a tentative stretching and have an interesting history.
Bainton travelled to Bayreuth in 1914 and found himself behind enemy
lines when war was declared.  The Germans interred him and made him music
director of the camp.  In addition to founding a madrigal group and
several chamber ensembles, he provided incidental music for camp productions
of the Shakespeare comedies Twelfth Night and The Merry Wives of Windsor.
After the war, he revised the score for orchestra.  The works strike a
more decidedly English tone, though still not as strongly as Bainton's
folk-based contemporaries.  More importantly, they reveal a solid lyric
gift.  The first movement, "Elegy," is my favorite of the three, originally
meant to accompany Viola's lament for her twin, Sebastian, in the first
scene of Twelfth Night.  It captures both her sadness and her enchantment
with the country on whose shores she has washed up.  "Intermezzo" describes
Windsor Forest from Merry Wives, while the final "Humoresque" is a genteel
cameo of Sir John Falstaff.

Pavane, Idyll, and Bacchanal, the latest piece on the disc, takes the
most harmonically adventurous risks, although those risks had been taken
at least fifteen years before by Holst.  I compliment the Pavane by
calling it Elgarian.  It has the piquancy of some the numbers in Wand
of Youth as well as beautiful scoring.  The Idyll, with prominence given
to a solo flute, operates at a slightly lower level, not quite reaching
the magic of the Pavane.  The Bacchanal, in 5/4 time, shows Bainton
cutting loose as far as he can do so.  As I said, Holst already travelled
this ground, and with deeper tread, but it's still a lovely miniature.

Bainton got the idea for the Concerto fantasia in 1909, when he heard
Busoni play the Liszt first piano concerto as well as his own monumental
piano concerto.  He began sketches in 1917, while still a German internee
and finished the work in 1920.  It's the most ambitious piece of his
I've heard.  It owes an obvious debt to Liszt, if not to Busoni, but
it's beautifully and thoughtfully worked.  The Liszt concerto features
two cadenzas in its first movement and varies two main ideas for its
entire length.  The cadenza idea appealed to Bainton, and he made it the
foundation of his structure.  This led him to tack the "fantasia" label
onto his concerto.  "Fantasia," however, implies something loose and
disorganized, whereas Bainton lays the fundamental architecture of the
entire score in his cadenza, like Liszt, burying the concerto's ideas
concerto in the opening "quasi fantasia" section.  Bainton works at an
extremely basic level.  The main idea of the concerto consists of the
melodic implications of a harmony rather than a set of specific themes,
as well as of melodies that emphasize the major or minor sixth degree
of the scale (A or A-flat in the key of C).  Bainton's a lot more subtle
than Liszt, and the concerto moves with near-Elgarian fluidity of thought.
I hope there are more Bainton scores like this one.

Paul Daniel, who has led some wonderful Vaughan Williams and Walton,
takes the helm here, always representing the composer well and occasionally
making magic.  Still young, he has room to grow, and I hope he does.
Margaret Fingerhut tackles the Concerto fantasia, straightening out its
Lisztian twists and turns with deep musicality.  I suspect her tone isn't
all that big, but Daniel and the engineers are considerate.  A lovely
disc.

Steve Schwartz

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