Christmas book review



Christopher Morley
(for classical column 12.12.19)

Next autumn marks 100 years since the formation of the then City of Birmingham Orchestra, and two concert- seasons of celebration are already gloriously underway.
And a permanent reminder of these festivities is "Forward -- 100 Years of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra", a sumptuous Elliott and Thompson publication, written by my friend and colleague Richard Bratby. The title is, of course, a nod to the motto of the City of Birmingham itself.
No favouritism in this review (I write with the experience of 50 years of objectivity), so I can easily comment that Richard is the ideal person to have undertaken this joyous task, having previously worked for many years in the CBSO back-office, taking responsibility, among other things, for the newly-opened CBSO Centre and the remarkable CBSO Youth Orchestra.
Beresford King-Smith's "Crescendo!", written for the CBSO's 75th anniversary, is a remarkable, invaluable chronicle, year-by-year, of the orchestra's history. Richard takes a more tangential approach, breaking off now and again to illuminate various topics (the orchestra's outreach work, thumbnail portraits of personalities involved in the orchestra's activities, the family of choruses, Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, and so on).
Particularly welcome is Richard's analysis of the Louis Fremaux debacle, when the great French conductor found himself forced to resign from the orchestra's principal conductorship as a result of internal political machinations at the end of the 1970s. At last we are shown both sides of the situation, no longer trammelled by orchestral die-hards from that ancient period whose views seem to have been sacrosanct until now.
One doesn't normally do book reviews word-by-word, but in this case I have done, so enthralling is this narrative of what is a continually growing success story of surely the City of Birmingham's greatest international export. And the dust-jacket is an absolute delight, with "Concerto", a painting by a Benedictine friar of a CBSO concert in Birmingham Town Hall in 1974, at the front, with a photograph of a CBSO concert in a packed Symphony Hall at the rear (available from Amazon and the CBSO).
Lighter dipping -in comes with Nick Bailey's "Across the Waves", an entertaining, indeed racy autobiography from someone whose broadcasting experience ranges from pirate Radio Caroline to being the first voice heard on Classic FM.
The older ones among us will remember with fondness Nick's actor father Robin Bailey, not least for his wonderful narration as the Brigadier in Peter Tinniswoode's glorious cricket ramblings. And we, and younger listeners, will have relished Nick's warm, welcoming tones across the air-waves (hence the title).
This enthralling book is packed with reminiscences, many of them endearingly frank, and covers Nick's travels and employment in all corners of the world (again, Across the Waves). It includes a section about Music Festivals at Sea, organised for P&O Cruises by Stratford-based Stephannie Williams, of which Nick became -- and still is -- the popular compere.
Personalities tumble from these pages, and there are illustrations galore to accompany the text. There is a glowing foreword from Paul Gambaccini, a broadcaster as versatile and eclectic as Nick Bailey himself.
Across the Waves is available from or from Amazon.
Finally comes one of the most enthralling and worthwhile books on Elgar I have read for a very long time. I'm fed up with hagiographies and fairy-stories about this well-balanced Worcestershire lad (with chips on both shoulders). Michael Kennedy's revealing "Portrait of Elgar" led the way in debunking the Land of Hope and Glory myth in 1968, but so many gushing publications since then have extolled all the composer's virtues whilst ignoring the gnawing lack of self-confidence and the pushiness of Alice, his wife.
"Elgar and the Press" is an absolutely remarkable labour of love from Richard Westwood-Brookes, who comes from the background of a lifetime in journalism and a passion for Elgar (he even arranged a memorial at Molineux commemorating the composer's support for Wolverhampton Wanderers).
Richard has unstintingly trawled through thousands of press-cuttings previewing and reviewing Elgar performances, interviews too, and has unearthed much information of which we were previously unaware, such as the fact that the Dream of Gerontius was not the only premiere to suffer from inadequate rehearsal at the 1900 Birmingham Triennial Musical Festival.
And the thing that most strikes me is the revelation that early on in his career Elgar himself probably wrote most of his glowing press releases in order to interest the great musical scribes of the day.
This is a most valuable, fascinating and indispensable book for anyone who sees beyond the perceived jingoism of someone who was actually an inwardly insecure, vulnerable composer.(available

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