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Prom - Schiff, Malcolm, ECO (July 1996)

George Malcolm's contribution to the revival of interest in early music rarely merits more than a brief footnote or fond anecdote. And yet the versatile musician was among those whose work prepared the way for today's breed of historically aware performers. Two Proms programmes revealed the extent of the contrasts and similarities between Malcolm's stylish approach to the Viennese classics and that of Trevor Pinnock and his English Concert, one of Britain's oldest period-instrument bands.

The brisk pace adopted by the 79-year-old Malcolm for the opening movements of Mozart's "Haffner" Symphony and Piano Concerto No 22 owed little to the "authentic" dictates of early music purists but rather derived from a sensitive awareness of style, extracting edge-of-the-seat playing from the English Chamber Orchestra. Above all, he encouraged the ECO to perform with care and intelligence, allowing phrases to ebb and flow, and applying rubato naturally.

Andrs Schiff, a former pupil of Malcolm's, admirably reflected his mentor's musicianship in two Mozart piano concertos, the extrovert No 19 in D major and the sublime No 22 in E flat major. His unmannered lyrical style, richly coloured and eternally expressive, was matched to perfection by the ECO's wind principals, who also contributed greatly to the success of Malcolm's confident but never aggressive account of the Brahms St Anthony Variations.

Confidence and colour were certainly the dominant impressions left by Pinnock and the English Concert in a neatly tailored programme of works by Mozart and Haydn. The spry rhythms and easy tunes of Mozart's early Symphony No 23, making its Proms debut, were brought to life in the most vigorous, appealing style, directed by Pinnock from the harpsichord. Haydn's majestic Mass in Time of War fared less well, despite some atmospheric moments and a dramatic, nerve-tingling account of the Agnus Dei. The rhythmic crispness and clear contrasts of instrumental tone generated by the English Concert and its splendid choirsuccessfully cut through the unhelpful Albert Hall acoustics, although the physical effort involved all too often undermined the melodic flow.

Pinnock's soloists, an oratorio dream team of Susan Gritton, Catherine Wyn-Rogers, John Mark Ainsley and Gerald Finley, restored line and legato to proceedings. Mozart's "Jupiter" Symphony was launched with a wham- bang first movement balanced by a passionately lyrical view of the Andante cantabile. The elegance of George Malcolm's Mozart was replaced here to thrilling effect by vivacious, earthy playing, crowned by a helter- skelter dash through the contrapuntal finale. Andrew Stuart (Independent 1966)

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(Below) Reviews from BBC Music Magazine

One of the chief delights of this twenty-year-old recording of Handel’s Opp. 4 & 7 organ concertos lies in George Malcolm’s feeling for improvisation and ornament. Departing from custom, Malcolm plays harpsichord rather than organ in two of the works; but musically, nothing is lost since Handel wrote all but one of his organ concertos for an instrument without pedals. Throughout the programme, Malcolm is given clean and lively support by the strings and woodwind of the Academy of St Martin in the Fields directed by Neville Marriner. Nicholas Anderson

When George Malcolm recorded his complete, or almost complete survey of Rameau’s music for solo harpsichord over 35 years ago there were few rival versions to be had. Since 1965, however, this immensely rewarding side to Rameau’s art has been explored with ever-increasing zeal, and Malcolm’s re-entry to the tilting list is at once challenged on all sides. Where he is most constantly at a disadvantage is in the sound of his instrument, for the harpsichord-building renaissance was in its infancy or, at least, early childhood in the Sixties. But interpretative ideas have also changed since then and, especially in respect of ‘notes inégales’ and other rhythmic details, Malcolm’s performances do not always convince as persuasively as those by Christophe Rousset, Trevor Pinnock, Scott Ross or Noëlle Spieth. It is Rameau’s earlier pieces which suffer most, the later great A minor Suite (c1728) revealing much of Malcolm’s refinement of expression, the supple strength of his technique and his innate musicianship. But, in the end, aided and abetted by the poor quality of the tapes, these performances are museum pieces, albeit as often as not rewarding ones. Nicholas Anderson

This is a neat and generous recompilation from discs originally published in 1978 and 1977. The Purcell songs – and all the best numbers are there – do sound a little dated, less because of Ian Partridge’s approach than because of the slightly aggressive timbre of the all-purpose harpsichord that George Malcolm plays. One misses, too, the enrichment to which we have become accustomed nowadays of string bass, or indeed the timbral options of lute or organ. Yet the spirit of this music comes through singer’s and accompanist’s veins. The original analogue sound comes up remarkably well in its new digital incarnation. Stephen Pettitt

Mozart wrote his first piano duet – one of the earliest works of its kind – during his visit to London in 1764-5. Legend has it that the eight-year-old Wunderkind sat on JC Bach’s lap while they improvised at the keyboard together. Mozart returned to four-hands composition on several occasions during his mature years – indeed, his duet output is surpassed only by Schubert’s. The grandest and most ambitious of Mozart’s piano duets is the Sonata in F, K497, a work weighty enough for Donald Francis Tovey to have included it alongside Mozart’s symphonies in his famous Essays in Musical Analysis. Equally imposing are the two Fantasies in F minor, originally intended for a mechanical organ housed in a clock; at the other end of the scale are the Variations in G, K501 – a perfect piece of intimate chamber music. Sadly, Imogen Cooper and Anne Queffélec find no room for the Variations, though of these two discs of the late duets theirs is the one to own: playing of unfailing warmth and musicality which gets right to the heart of this wonderful music. András Schiff and George Malcolm, recorded on Mozart’s own fortepiano in Salzburg, take a rather more dramatic, not to say assertive, view. The two Fantasies are splendidly handled, but there is a hint of rhythmic unsteadiness in the F major Sonata’s virtuoso finale. Misha Donat

The Spanish composer Victoria gave us some of the finest church music of the late Renaissance. The highlight of this compilation is his Responsorios de Tinieblas, rich polyphonic music of grave, almost mystical, intensity: George Malcolm’s celebrated 1960 recording still grips with its sorrowful beauty. Stephen Cleobury captures the demure serenity of the Misa O quam gloriosum reasonably well, but the pieces directed by George Guest (all of disc 1) tend to lack focus. Texts are not included. Graham Lock

Though this disc is called simply ‘brain,’ and the great horn player is the only person who appears in all four works on it, it is most impressive as a series of examples of teamwork. The first piece, Beethoven’s exuberant Quintet for Piano and Wind in E flat, Op. 16, comes from a recital at the Aldeburgh Festival in 1955; with Benjamin Britten, not normally sympathetic to Beethoven, here a wonderfully sensitive and alert pianist, we hear the four distinguished wind players taking their lead from him, Dennis Brain playing especially ravishingly in the slow movement. In the French-style Gordon Jacob Sextet, it’s the wind players who give George Malcolm, familiar on the harpsichord but here making a rare appearance on the piano, his cues. With Hindemith’s characteristically busy, not to say industrious Horn Sonata, Brain and Noel Mewton-Wood are very much equal partners, and in the brief lush Vinter Hunter’s Moon the orchestra provides a technicolour backdrop for Brain’s cavalier and almost insolently brilliant display. These are all vintage performances of works which are not deep, but expert specimens of high-spirited entertainment, and at times in the Beethoven a good deal more than that. Michael Tanner

The St John’s College Choir’s Anglican sound, though admirably focused and expressive, is not ideally suited to the passionate character of Victoria’s music. Of the four motets included here, Ascendens Christus in altum comes closest to capturing the music’s exultant spirit. By contrast, the Westminster Cathedral Choir has a sharper-edged sound which vividly evokes the varied emotional moods of the Tenebrae Responsories. Good choral balance, in atmospheric recordings, make this an appealing sample of the repertoire. Nicholas Rast

The Bach Concerto, recorded at the 1963 Aldeburgh Festival, is somewhat dull and stodgy on Menuhin’s part, though the overall interpretation is given shape and atmosphere by Malcolm’s conducting. Live recording sometimes works well as a medium for capturing the thrill of a performance, but the performance has to be memorable and at least slightly reliable to warrant it. Though this disc forms a true warts-and-all portrait of Menuhin, it remains to be confirmed whether such a recording, Mendelssohn aside, will bear repeated listening. Jessica Duchen

This is a disc for those who love the acoustic, the atmosphere and the musical traditions of the Roman Catholic Cathedral in London. Aside from many historical works from the Catholic liturgy, it also features three more recent directors and composers associated with Westminster – George Malcolm (d1997); David Bevan (b1951); and Colin Mawby (b1936). Of these modern pieces, Mawby’s Justus ut palma has real drama and is well performed. Malcolm’s Scapulis Suis has a certain distinction, too, though his other pieces are somewhat derivative (with nods to Allegri and Bruckner).

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