RECORDINGS OF BRITTEN'S MISSA BREVIS (op. 63, 1959)
Bulgarian Radio and TV Chorus/Mikhail Milkov • Forlane UCD 16610
An introduction to Missa Brevis in D, Op. 63 (1959)
Britten was renowned throughout his life as a prolific composer of children’s music, and his affection for young people and interest in their world was a defining characteristic of his personality. Britten never compromised his style when writing for children, and these pieces demonstrate his noteworthy skill in challenging his performers’ technical abilities at the same time as covering a broad (and demanding) emotional spectrum.
The remarkable Missa Brevis was written in 1959 to mark the retirement of George Malcolm as director of Westminster Cathedral Choir. Britten was a long-time admirer of the continental, full-bodied sound that Malcolm had cultivated in the Westminster choristers, and the Missa Brevis provides ample opportunity to showcase the abilities of cathedral trebles. It opens with a commanding Kyrie and dance-like, syllabic Gloria, which – despite its vital rhythms and some unexpected chordal progressions – is based on medieval plainchant. At the core of the work is the Sanctus, which opens with a twelve-note row presented by three overlapping voice parts, highlighting Britten’s growing interest in serialism at the time; it is followed by the eerily disjointed lines of the Benedictus. The Agnus Dei is perhaps the most extraordinary movement of all, with its menacing organ pedal ostinato and dissonant interjections from the manuals – the vocal phrases are chromatic and punctuated by ominous rests. In some ways almost prefiguring the style of the War Requiem, this movement contrasts starkly with many composers’ preference for soothing Agnus Dei settings. The abrupt unison phrases and return of staccato writing at the text ‘miserere nobis’ (‘have mercy upon us’) enhance the impression of a fearful and urgent plea to God, closing Britten’s mass for trebles on a dark and highly unsettling note. Sophie Biddell © 2004
George with the English Chamber Orchestra
From: 'Northern Sinfonia, A Magic Of Its Own' - B. Griffiths (2004)
We are lucky to have Gioconda's recording back in 1955 of Viotti's Duo in G with Menuhin - a day earlier they also recorded Handel's Trio Sonata in g minor with John Shinebourne, cello and Raymond Leppard, harpsichord. Both recordings are to be found on Disc 41 of "Menuhin - the Great EMI Recordings". 2 years earlier Menuhin, de Vito and Shinebourne teamed up with harpsichordist George Malcolm for Handel's Op.5/2 "Sonata for 2 Violins and Continuo in D" (Complete EMI Recordings, Korean issue from 2013), all these recordings were done in Abbey Road Studio No.3. (Wikipedia)
Concert Date: 14 Jun 1977
Directed from the harpsichord by George Malcolm
Performers: Burrowes Norma (Soprano), Dickson, Joan (Cello), Elwes, John (Tenor), Hirons, Christopher (Violin), Hulse, Gareth (Oboe), Kellett, Colin (Oboe), Malcolm, George (Harpsichord), Pears, Peter (Tenor), Rippon, Michae (Bass/Baritone), Sansom, Marilyn (Cello), Turner, John (Recorder), Woodcock, David (Violin).
Creative artists: Malcolm, George (Conductor)
I loathe performances of certain Britten works (Hymn to St. Cecilia a prime example) by all-male choirs. JEG has recorded that piece most successfully and I dare say that it can be downloaded cheaply enough. George Malcolm's account with the 'London Symphony Chorus' (a pickup pro choir - 1961) is also impressive. You might like it done with just five solo voices, in which case there are members of London Sinfonietta Voices directed by Terry Edwards. (The slight vibrato they use might be bothersome to some boarders.) Radio 3 Forum
Joerg Demus is truly as inspiring as Thurston Dart, George Malcolm and other pianists who made sure that the beginner of the Square-Piano-Forte has a chance to discover and listen and be inspired by the wonderful sound and singing of these original instruments.
The Piano Society
József Gát taught at the Franz Liszt Music Academy for the rest of his life. Pianists would come to the Gát household before they would give public concerts and have Gát listen to their programs and critique their performances. Gát’s children remember pianists Rudolph Kerrer, Lili Krauss and George Malcolm, a well-known harpsichordist, coming to the house.
Gát rarely gave public concerts. He became interested in early keyboard instruments and after World War II, he did not play many public piano concerts, but mainly played clavichord and harpsichord concerts. Hungary had not seen many early keyboard instruments. Only three harpsichords were known in Hungary. Gát allowed his instruments to be taken to the Franz Liszt Academy of Music in the great hall to be used in concerts. As a result, Gát is credited with being one of the first to introduce Hungary to the harpsichord.
Brandon Roger Bascom (2012)
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The harpsichordists not taking part on the jury include George Malcolm, who gave recitals here several times in the 1970s, Gustav Leonhardt, who played here more than once, and we must not forget either Huguette Dreyfus or Johann Sonnleitner.
First International Harpsichord Competition, Budapest (1990?)
Before it closed in 1980, the John Feldberg workshop produced 272 instruments which were sold to customers all over the world and played by musicians from Raymond Leppard to George Malcolm, Kenneth Gilbert, Trevor Pinnock, Peter Hurford, Christopher Hogwood and Jane Clarke (Dodgson). Instruments were also hired out to numerous venues and orchestras; amongst them Glyndebourne, the Royal Festival Hall, the Wigmore Hall, the BBC, Dartington Music Summer School - and the Abbey Road recording studios! Feldberg Website
"There is also a four-harpsichord Bach jamboree planned for the summer with George Malcolm, Roger Pugh, Alexander Skeaping and myself."
Ruth Dyson (1975)
Capriol Chamber Choir, directed by Graham Dinnage, was founded in 2004 (as The Warlock Singers), and has specialised in the performance of British choral music. They performed for the PWS at their AGM in 2005 in Eynsford. Our Christmas Concert features works by Warlock and by the esteemed president of the society, Richard Rodney Bennett, as well as a rarely-heard pastoral gem by George Malcolm, his Missa ad Praesepe (Mass at the Crib). Peter Warlock Society (2010)
Modern harpsichord playing can be roughly divided into three eras, beginning with the career of the influential reviver of the instrument, Wanda Landowska (1879–1959). Landowska used a harpsichord made by Pleyel of the heavy, piano-influenced type discussed above. Such instruments, though now considered inappropriate for earlier music, retain some historical importance for the works that were specifically composed for them (concertos by Falla and Poulenc, for example). An influential later group of English players using post-Pleyel instruments by Thomas Goff and the Goble family included George Malcolm and Thurston Dart.
It's heartwarming to hear I'm not the only one who finds these Westminster Choir performances so captivating. If I'd started listening to them blindfold, I would never have identified the choir as English. Not to in any way denigrate the quality of English choirs, but there's a passion and fervour, almost rawness, that one doesn't normally associate with the English choral tradition. In particular, the open-throated sound of the boys is spectacular. The only snag is that, at least on my equipment, I have to knock the treble back a few notches on one or two of the recordings (Missa Vidi Speciosam for instance) to take an edge off the midrange. Apparently Westminster Cathedral is a notoriously difficult recording venue.
I completely agree with you about the Tenebrae Responsories. Astonishing music, superbly done by the Westminster Choir under David Hill. You may know there was a much earlier recording with the same choir under George Malcolm (Argo), made in 1959 when this music was still part of the Roman Catholic liturgy.
Examples of Thomas Goff's beautiful instruments that George loved playing
Above: John Eliot Gardiner (Gramophone 1975)
Below: Catholic Herald (1944)
From: 'Hammer Film Scores And The Musical Avante-Garde' - David Huckvale (2008)
STUNNING !!! GREAT GEORGE MALCOLM !!! I visited his concert in Bratislava. He played at first Jazz for piano, drums, doublebass and strings by Joseph Horowitz and then harpsichord concerto by CPE Bach. It was fantastic evening. I have unforgettable experiences. G. Malcolm was fantastic virtuoso, wonderful musician and great personage. Kind regards Ria (YouTube)
After leaving college, Anthony Halstead (french horn) took several lessons with Horace Fitzpatrick and Myron Bloom. He also studied harpsichord with George Malcolm and conducting with Michael Rose and Sir Charles Mackerras.
Do you feel that the old music movement has anything to teach you?
When I was young, everybody was doing that anyway. There was Thurston Dart, George Malcolm, Nadia Boulanger, Tony Baines, Arnold Goldsborough, Dolmetsch, etc. It was common knowledge. Everybody read Quantz and Leopold Mozart. It was very interesting. Now suddenly it's become holy writ. But if you try to tell me that the B Minor Mass sounds good with a chorus of single voices, I don't believe it. The Gloria is a great public statement, it's as though the whole heavens suddenly burst into song. Don't tell me that isn't what he had in his head. He didn't have the material, just a rotten bunch of school kids. Just think of Mozart's enthusiasm when he had forty first violins in Paris. The princes couldn't afford huge orchestras, only a few fiddles. We're interested in the sound they heard in their minds and not what they actually heard. From interview with Colin Davis, Operanet (2000)
There's not much already listed that doesn't still thrill me.
My own top anthems that come to mind are:
Bring us O Lord God - Harris
Beati quorum via - Stanford
Te Lucis Ante Terminum - Balfour Gardiner
Let all mortal flesh - Bairstow
Blessed be the God and Father - Wesley
Veritas mea - George Malcolm
Radio 3 forum (2014)
In the nineteen sixties and early seventies Peter Smedley (1932-2012) was much involved in the then flourishing Pueri Cantores movement. He had built up an excellent Boy’s Choir in Nottingham Cathedral. His work was much influenced by the ideas of that fine conductor and harpsichordist George Malcolm, a visionary who was also the Master of Music at Westminster Cathedral who revolutionised the accepted ideas of boy’s vocal training. George questioned the then prevalent and ubiquitous ‘Anglican Hoot’ saying that one could only hear and understand the boy’s natural voice if one listened to them at play. George Malcolm’s ideas are now generally accepted and Peter Smedley was in the forefront of this change. I heard his choir on a number of occasions and his achievement was impressive.
Peter was much involved in the development of the Pueri Cantores Summer Schools. These took place in Westminster Cathedral’s Choir School during August. They were residential (over thirty boys taking part), lasted for two weeks and had a great influence on boy’s choirs within the English Catholic Church. Unfortunately they were only allowed to happen on two occasions. However, they were much enjoyed by both students and staff. Under the direction of that great and sensitive priest, Wilfred Purney, they gave participants a sense of the standards to which liturgical choirs should aspire. Great music was sung. Including William Byrd’s Five Part Mass with the Cathedral’s professional Lay Clerks, individual lessons in vocal production were given and the participants sang at the Cathedral’s Services to the delight of the worshippers. (It is interesting to recall that one of the participants was Sir Nicholas Kenyon who eventually became Director of the BBC Proms.) Peter was a great influence on the Summer Schools and his wise advice always invaluable. He was a delightful man, unfailingly courteous, always considerate and invariably helpful. He gave me continual encouragement in my own work and I have the happiest memories of my all too brief association with him. RIP. Colin Mawby, K.S.G.
Each of these constituent parts is distinctive in its musical language. The writing for the boys’ choir is derived from that of Britten’s Missa Brevis (composed for George Malcolm and the boys of Westminster Cathedral in 1959, just two years earlier) with its characteristic demand for an open continental production and vocal tone. The settings of Wilfred Owen inhabit the sound world of the song cycle Nocturne (1958); while the music of the Latin Mass acknowledges Britten’s love of Verdi, whose Messa da Requiem is unquestionably Britten’s primary musical inspiration for this work. War Requiem: The Voice, John Evans (2013)
In a completely different repertory, this change was effected by the sound of Victoria's Tenebrae Responsories, as unforgettably recorded by Westminster Cathedral Choir under George Malcolm in 1959. That full-throated, chest-voiced, text-conscious, passionately intense performance had a direct influence on everyone in this country concerned with that repertory. Some rejected it, others modified their style to take account of it, but it created a sea-change in the whole way we think about that repertory which remains today.
FROM IMDb FILM & TV DATABASE
Filmography: George Malcolm (1917–1997)
George Malcolm was born on February 28, 1917 in London, England. He is known for his work on The Man Who Finally Died (1963), Vera Lynn (1969) and Tempo (1961). He died on October 10, 1997 in London.
1963 The Man Who Finally Died (Film) Musician: harpsichord. Self (2 credits)
Excerpt here: FiILM CLIP
1971 Vera Lynn (TV Series) Episode dated 25 February. Himself
1967 Tempo (TV Series) Performer and Composer: George Malcolm on Scarlatti (With Anthony Hopkins)
I discovered George Malcolm myself a few years go when I was exploring Rameau and Couperin. I love what he does with French Music, and I also like his Scarlatti very much. I've never heard him play Bach but I'll check it out for sure. Who was he? Was he interested in Historical Performance? (the performances sound HIP influenced to me.)
It's interesting you mentioning the Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue just because that seems a really idiomatic harpsichord piece to me, with all those fast bright arpeggios. I know pianists have played it often, but I would say it really transforms the music to put it on a modern piano like the one Kempff uses, maybe essentially transforms it.
Just lately, listening to WTC 2, I've started to really loath what Wanda Landowska does with the music. Sorry. Mandryka - Talk Classical (2014)
Believe it or not, I am unable to see why the harpsichord can't enjoy a rewarding life in contemporary music. Yes, that's right - the old made new. But you needn't take my word for it. Ask Berio, or Poulenc, Ligeti, Nyman, Takemitsu, Cowell, Henze, Xenakis, Carter, Andriessen. Some composers, such as Martinoand Françaix, saw the harpsichord as the perfect vehicle for the neo-classical movement. Others, like the jazz pianist-turned-Hindemith disciple Mel Powell or the eclectic Lou Harrison, used harpsichord sonority to evoke musical worlds separate from the European canon. Still yet, there were composers who simply saw the revival of the harpsichord as offering Western music a completely new medium for modern musical language. Interestingly, many of these figures - Kalabis, Schnittke, Haubenstock-Ramati, Górecki - were from the Eastern Bloc. Could it be that they were unfettered by the Baroque traditions of harpsichord music that existed elsewhere? And in partnership with all of these composers, many of the major harpsichordists of the day (in stark contrast to our own time), Wanda Landowska, Ralph Kirkpatrick, George Malcolm, Zuzana Ruzicková, János Sebestyén, programmed contemporary music alongside the works of the past. Some, like Elisabeth Chojnacka, made a specialty of contemporary music. There was also a cadre of concert programmers willing to explore new ideas.
Mahan Esfahani, Gramophone (2013)