This Island’s Nations

1280px-The_Battle_of_Britain_Monument._Victoria_Embankment,_London

This Island’s Nations

Stuart Millson believes that Brexit will rejuvenate Britain

In my anti-federal Europe days of 20 to 25 years ago, never did I believe that I would see a reversal of the European Union’s control of my country. Yet we are now at the exit door of the European project, an experiment that began for us back in 1972, when the then Conservative Government of Edward Heath effectively ended 300 years or sovereign constitutional self-government (not to mention the dissolution of our own economic single market – the USA, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the Commonwealth). Today, a Conservative Government is once again at the helm, but it is executing what, for the liberal establishment, is unthinkable: the wholesale rejection of a system of supra-national administration by experts, the great-and-the-good, the elite, the politicians and Eurocrats who always know best. Continue reading

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Vaulting Ambition

Midland Grand Hotel, St Pancras Station

Midland Grand Hotel, St Pancras Station

Vaulting Ambition

Angela Ellis-Jones appreciates a long overdue tome

GOTHIC FOR THE STEAM AGE, Gavin Stamp, Aurum Press, ISBN  978-1-78131-124-0 208pp, £30

Those of us who admire the Victorian age regret that we live in an era whose values and attitudes are diametrically opposed to all that it stood for. But there is one way in which the nineteenth century still loudly projects its presence: its architecture. And there is one architectural style above all which is associated with the nineteenth century: the Gothic Revival. Pioneered by Pugin, the genre was continued by George Gilbert Scott (1811-78).

In this excellent book, the eminent architectural historian Gavin Stamp provides an illustrated biography of Scott in A4 format. The first part consists mainly of text; the second, of illustrations of the buildings grouped by type. Scott, the son of a clergyman, began with workhouses, for which there was a demand in the wake of the 1834 New Poor Law. He and his then partner Moffatt designed over forty of these undistinguished pieces of work; it was only after he had designed several churches that he really got into his stride. Continue reading

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The Larger the Load

 container ship

The Larger the Load

   Bill Hartley weighs anchor

The Germans had agreed to dispose of the depth charge, which was decent of them since it had originally been dropped by the Royal Navy. The floor of the Baltic Sea is said to be littered with unexploded ordnance; the detritus of two world wars and the practice of dumping unwanted munitions. It was to be the crew’s last job for a while. Bad weather had brought them into harbour, tying up at a berth just behind our ship.

Esbjerg in Denmark is a rather obscure place. It’s a deep water port which also serves as a base for servicing the country’s off shore wind farms. Just across the harbour was a cable laying ship, also in port because of the weather. Before this work can be done a safety zone has to be trawled, which was how the depth charge had been found. Continue reading

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Dissecting Human Passions

skin

Dissecting Human Passions

Written on Skin, Royal Opera House, January 13th 2017, music composed by George Benjamin, text by Martin Crimp, directed by Katie Mitchell, reviewed by Alessandro Zummo

Written on Skin comes from a close collaboration between the stage director Katie Mitchell, the librettist Martin Crimp and the composer George Benjamin. It is a deep meditation on the power of art and how it can transform our lives, and has returned to the Royal Opera House for the second time with almost the same cast of its premiere.

The opera was conceived for the Aix en Provence festival in 2012 and was clearly intended to establish a connection with Occitan traditions. In fact, it is inspired by the razo and vida, the troubadour poetries commissioned by wealthy patrons in order to have their loves and deeds bequeathed and illuminated with refined miniatures. This opera refers in particular to the popular story of the poet Guillem de Cabestaing, who is commissioned by a local squire to write his achievements on skin/parchment. Continue reading

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Norfolk and Norwich Chamber Music

Cédric Tiberghien and CBSO Wind Soloists

Cédric Tiberghien and CBSO Wind Soloists

Norfolk and Norwich Chamber Music

Cédric Tiberghien / CBSO Soloists, John Innes Centre, Colney, Norwich, March 2017, reviewed by Tony Cooper

Peppered throughout Norfolk & Norwich Chamber Music seasons over the past few years has been a highly-successful series of chamber-music weekends, the brainchild of Roger Rowe, who is retiring from NNCM as programme director at the end of this season after 20 years at the helm.

Already this year Norwich has been treated to the clarinettist Michael Collins gathering a group of his close friends together for a trio of concerts celebrating the music of Beethoven, Schubert, et al. And looking further ahead (April, in fact), popular French-born pianist, François-Frédéric Guy returns to Norwich to play Mozart and Brahms with fellow pianist and countryman, Geoffrey Couteau, concluding their weekend partnership with a flourish performing Messiaen’s Visions de l’Amen – the first time that this glorious and inspiring work, composed in 1943 and commissioned for the Concerts de la Pléiade held during the German occupation of Paris – has been heard in Norwich. Continue reading

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Mark my Words

images-2

Mark my Words

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, libretto and score by Richard Wagner, Royal Opera House, 13th March 2017, directed by Kasper Holten, orchestra conducted by Sir Antonio Pappano, reviewed by Leslie Jones

This new production of Meistersinger, by departing director Kasper Holten, has all of the characteristics that one has come to expect from Royal Opera. As a spectacle, it makes a lasting impression. Mia Stensgaard’s high tech, at times revolving sets are visually arresting. And the medieval costumes of the guild members during the song competition (Johannistfest), likewise, are lavish, although somewhat at odds with the cast’s otherwise modern attire. We have a full scale riot, dancing girls, a tailor in a goat’s skin and men astride a giant revolving wheel, in a nightmare tableau reminiscent of Hieronymous Bosch. In the final act, trumpets, strategically placed at the back of the amphitheatre, herald the beginning of the song contest.

Although, in Oper und Drama, 1850-1851, Wagner envisaged a reformed opera devoid of what he considered the more mindless, crowd pleasing elements (arias, choruses, quintets etc.), in the event Meistersinger incorporated all these aspects.

In this production, the singing of the leading members of the cast and of the chorus is of a consistently high standard. Bass-baritone Sir Bryn Terfel, as Hans Sachs, gives a master (or meister) class in what is doubtless a physically demanding role. At times, he is alone on the stage, as at the beginning of Act 111, when he sings Wahn, Wahn, überall Wahn (Madness! Madness! Everywhere Madness). Terfel has a quite remarkable range and he appears to effortlessly interact with the orchestra.

In Meistersinger, Wagner anticipated many of the emotionally affecting elements of The Ring Cycle and Parsifal, notably, the evocation of the beauty of nature (the scent of lilac,  birdsong – “I hear a blissful nightingale…”, and the passage of the seasons). And there are telling references to Christ and to John the Baptist, in the Choral of the Congregation (Act 1, scene 1) and in David’s poem, commencing “On Jordan’s bank St John did stand…” (Act 111, scene 1).

At the end of the opening performance, which was rapturously received, a colleague sounded a somewhat discordant note, reminding us that Wagner was Hitler’s favourite composer. Indeed, in Meistersinger, he (Wagner) distinguishes between a stagnant culture constrained by convention and formalism, as represented by the pedantry of the Marker, Sixtus Beckmesser, brilliantly depicted by Johannes Martin Kränzle, and a living, Germanic Kultur, or “holy German art”, untainted by supposedly malignant, alien influences. In “Walther, Poetry and Pedantry”, in the official programme, Hugo Shirley points out that Wagner’s Das Judenthum in der Musik (Jewishness in Music), first published in 1850, was re-published in 1869, soon after Meistersinger’s premier.

Clearly, the aspiring Meistersinger Walther von Stolzing, played by tenor Gwyn Hughes Jones, and Sachs himself, “are Wagner’s alter egos” (Chris Walton, “Being Beckmesser”, official programme). And although the goldsmith, Veit Pogner, performed by bass Stephen Milling, represents materialism, he redeems himself by supporting genuine German culture, offering all his worldly goods and chattels, plus his daughter in marriage, to the winner of the song competition. Sachs considers him “A master, rich and high-minded…” He implores Walther to join the guild and to thereby “honour your German masters”.

Michael White attended this performance. Now there is a music critic, whose “shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose”.

Bryn Terfel and Rachel Willis-Sørensen

Bryn Terfel as Hans Sachs and Rachel Willis-Sørensen as Eva, photo by Clive Barda

Dr LESLIE JONES is the Editor of QR

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ENDNOTES, 13th March 2017

MG T-Type 1953

MG T-Type, 1953

Endnotes, 13th March 2017

In this edition: Now Comes Beauty, from EM Records; Vaughan Williams from Norway, reviewed by Stuart Millson; Concert at St John’s, March 1st 2017, reviewed by Leslie Jones

With the English Music Festival (May Bank Holiday, Dorchester Abbey, Oxfordshire) now only a short time away, how better to celebrate springtime and music-making in our country than with a recent and eye-catching two-CD disc devoted to contemporary British music – but with a slight difference. In other words: expect not atonality, but tunes. Entitled ‘Now comes beauty’ (the name of a work by 56-year-old Cornish-born composer, Paul Carr) the recording comes from EM Records, the recording arm of the Festival, and features the BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by Gavin Sutherland – with two pieces in the collection under the baton of Owain Arwel Hughes CBE. And it is Arwel Hughes who sets the pace with the very first work on CD1, the Festival Overture by Matthew Curtis (b. 1959) – a curtain-raiser commissioned for the 2008 EMF. Curtis strongly believes that “the possibilities of ‘traditional’ tonality and form are far from exhausted” and that audiences and musicians alike long for accessible works. The Festival Overture certainly lives up to the composer’s beliefs – a jaunty, “open-road” theme announced by the full orchestra, suggesting an image and atmosphere, perhaps, of an open-top 1950s’ motor-car making its way along country roads through South Oxfordshire. Throughout this five-minute gem of a work, Owain Arwel Hughes shapes all the tunes and phrases with great care and attention, proving that even lighter music can give real pleasure, and is deserving of thorough artistic preparation and recording excellence.

However, a more substantial and introspective piece follows, by David Matthews – now in his 70s, and perhaps the senior and foremost British composer on this disc (Matthews is a symphonist and well-known musicologist). Based upon Dostoevsky’s novella of the same name, White Nights evokes the composer’s memories of a love affair which ended for him in 1980 – the composer wandering London streets late at night in the manner of the “dreamer” in Dostoevsky’s original story set in St. Petersburg.

A Norfolk Suite by Paul Lewis (b. 1943) provides local county colour, as does Christopher Wright’s Legend – a 12-minute-long tone poem revealing a haunting image of the Suffolk coastal spot of Shingle Street, where – during the invasion scare of the early war years – locals claim to have seen a burning sea and bodies washed up on the shoreline. Wright’s idea has a parallel, to some extent, with John Ireland’s famous Legend for piano and orchestra, in which the landscape (in this case, the Sussex Downs) brought forth apparitions of mediaeval times. The power and feelings associated with lonely places have always been a characteristic associated with British composers, and we must congratulate Christopher Wright on his writing, which seems to create a spell and a sense of time and tide standing still.

The exuberant 30-minute-long Piano Concerto by David Owen Norris (performed by the composer) brings the collection to its close: a work which has all the showmanship and exciting, intricate detail which you find in every recital and concert by this engaging, often barnstorming  soloist. The Andante serioso middle movement shows that English romanticism has emerged in the 21st-century in a new, but recognisable guise – a phrase that could summarise all of the works in this enterprising and definitive EM Records edition.

The Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra is fast emerging as one of Europe’s leading recording and performing groups; interested (unlike many continental ensembles) in British repertoire and works that are just off the beaten track. From Chandos Records comes a deeply satisfying, superbly recorded and absorbing CD juxtaposition of two great works by Ralph Vaughan Williams: his Job, A Masque for Dancing (written during 1927-30) and the last utterance of the composer – the Ninth Symphony (1956-57).

William Blake, The Messengers tell Job of his Misfortunes

William Blake, The Messengers tell Job of his Misfortunes

Inspired by the Book of Job and by William Blake’s illustrations of the same, Vaughan Williams’s “masque” (he avoided the use of the work, ballet) is undoubtedly one of his greatest works – and an enigmatic work, too, in that it can be listened to purely as a set of symphonic scenes, with the listener content with just the faintest outline of the story: Satan’s Dance of Triumph, for example, and the sixth scene – the sinister, yet doleful Dance of Job’s Comforters, ending with a stunning, tumultuous shock-from-nowhere as the orchestra and, shortly after, organ, thunder out an earth-shattering chord. Pastoral landscapes which may remind listeners of the world of The Lark Ascending are also to be found in Job, with Elihu’s Dance of Youth and Beauty offering an ethereal solo role for the orchestral lead violinist, and the mystical gazing-into-the-distance of the Pavane of the Sons of the Morning creating a feeling of rapture and noble achievement. Sir Andrew Davis, a lifelong champion of Vaughan Williams, conducts – and I suspect that this is the first time the Bergen Philharmonic has performed the piece. If so, Sir Andrew has given his players not only a complete insight into the heart of the work: he has inspired them to impressive heights of performing technique – with splendid, snarling brass where necessary, and the occasional manic, overheating of those passages which suggest rampage and fury. The brass sound of the Bergen Philharmonic is superb, but it may not have quite the majesty and poise of the Philharmonia – whose account of Job under the baton of Barry Wordsworth remains one of my favourite interpretations. But the new “Bergen Job” is undoubtedly (for me) a contender for the best new orchestral CD of the last six months.

The Ninth Symphony, just over half-an-hour in length is the second work on the disc: another mysterious landscape occasionally touching the edges of tonality, with brooding shadows, monoliths, snare-drum and pesante themes evoking ghostly drummers and spectres on Salisbury Plain. A flugelhorn (orchestral soloist, Martin Winter) adds to the strangeness and richness of the score, which ends – not in any great affirmation, but rather, suggesting a world of glowing, declining sunshine at the end of a winter’s day – a brief touch of warmth and light as the universe covers us in darkness.

March 1, 2017, St John’s Smith Square, The London Chorus and New London Orchestra, conducted by Ronald Corp: works by Mozart, Elgar and Lennox Berkeley, reviewed by Leslie Jones

St John’s is an ideal venue in which to present music inspired by religion. Perfectly complementing Mozart’s short but affecting Sancta Maria, K273 and his much larger scale Missa Brevis in F, K192, the first and last items respectively, Mezzo Soprano Olivia Ray was the soloist in Four Poems of St Teresa of Ávila, set to music by Lennox Berkeley. Ray’s spirited performance of this somewhat challenging and austere work was greatly appreciated by the audience. The four songs vary in mood and intensity but all together the piece has an exultant, at times ecstatic quality. We are back in the ineffable, Medieval-monastic world of mysticism and religious ecstasy. Berkeley, indicatively, converted to Catholicism in his twenties. Our only reservation was Arthur Symons’ translation of the four poems, which contain some infelicitous stanzas, such as “What is this ding-dong, Or loud singing is it?”, in Shepherd, Shepherd, Hark That Calling.

St Teresa of Ávila

St Teresa of Ávila

The strings are particularly striking in this composition, a quality that also comes to the fore in Berkeley’s scintillating Serenade for Strings, Op.12. The New London Orchestra gave a powerful performance of this four movement work. The first movement, marked Vivace, is lively; the second, marked Andantino, is more introspective in mood; then in the at times turbulent third movement, marked Allegro Moderato, but even more in the angst ridden fourth movement, or Scherzo, marked Lento, we have echoes of Bohuslav Martinu. The Serenade was written in 1939 and both of these composers ably expressed what the programme note calls “the ‘trauma’ of that period”.

The sea, like religion, has inspired some great music. Claude Debussy’s La Mer, The Sea by Frank Bridge and Four Sea Interludes from Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes spring immediately to mind. Now Edward Elgar’s beautifully orchestrated Sea Pictures has been re-arranged for choir and orchestra by Donald Fraser, who was in the audience during this performance. Instead of one solo performer, usually a mezzo-soprano accompanied by the orchestra, in Fraser’s re-arrangement all five songs are sung by a choir or chorus. Thus, in the exquisite second song, ‘In Haven’, women sing the first verse, men the second and the whole choir the last. Stick in the muds will doubtless prefer the original (Elgar’s) version.

LESLIE JONES is Editor of The Quarterly Review

STUART MILLSON is the Classical Music Editor of The Quarterly Review

(Now Comes Beauty, EMR CD037-8. Vaughan Williams, Job & Symphony No. 9, CHSA 5180. For details of the forthcoming English Music Festival, go to: www.englishmusicfestival.org.uk)

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Fighting for England

Tommy Robinson

Tommy Robinson

Fighting for England

Gerry Dorrian describes what drove the EDL

As well as being Senior Lecturer at King’s College, London, Dr John Meadowcroft is the university’s Director of Postgraduate Research in Political Economy, and he has taught on the LSE Hansard Scholars scheme. Significantly, for what follows, he has also toiled at the coal face of politics, assisting Simon Hughes when he was a Liberal Democrat MP and editing, for the Institute of Economic Affairs, the popular and controversial Prohibitions.

In the introduction to his lecture on the English Defence League at the Adam Smith Institute on 2 March, his own chapter on prostitution was cited as a piece that, in looking at all the aspects of one activity surrounded by embargoes and disdain, said everything that needed to be said about all prohibitions.

Which is perhaps a link to Meadowcroft’s pioneering investigations into the EDL. His co-researcher was Dr Elizabeth Morrow, herself a King’s Ph.D, who recently wrote a report for the centre-left think tank Demos that would be controversial and counter-intuitive to some, saying that there was little evidence that the collapse in support for both the EDL and the British National Party was primarily due to the rise of UKIP. Neither is afraid to speak truth to orthodoxy.

Memberships and marches were legal and indeed facilitated by the police, but the EDL was considered beyond the pale by those opposing them. Yet despite the very strong views on either side, both researchers managed to embed themselves in several marches and interview individual members, and still delivered a dispassionate phenomenological study of the EDL based around the perceived costs and benefits of membership, entitled The Political Economy of the EDL. It was a breath of fresh air to hear the subject approached by somebody speaking from a position of knowledge, which made the less salubrious aspects he reported bearable.

One salutary aspect is that demonstrations were attended by some who viewed the EDL as promising access to violence that had been policed out of football: witness the leader Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, pseudonym Tommy Robinson, who had been a well-known member of a gang of hooligans connected to Luton Town Football Club. Access to violence is one of what John Meadowcroft calls “club goods” – partly private and partly public reinforcers that incentivise people to participate in ways that more structured organisations such as political parties cannot. Participation started to collapse when these “club goods” were rendered unobtainable through, for example, police tactics such as kettling and forcing pubs near the route to shut. A further disincentive was the negative media coverage the EDL accrued, causing members to lose support from friends and family members.

If the change in police tactics caused one exogeneous shock, according to John’s and Elizabeth’s interviewees, another came through infiltration of the EDL by the far-right.

I had been apprehensive regarding the atmosphere during the lecture, but the Adam Smith Institute is an oasis of rational discourse in these increasingly fervid times. I found myself in conversation with a young academic who felt attracted to cultural Marxism, and we identified that we came to opposite ends of the field for the same reason: political cartelisation. This is a process first identified by Frankfurt-school economist Otto Kirschheimer in 1950s Germany whereby main political parties converge to form a “superparty” whose parliamentarians don’t care which party or combination thereof form the government, as long as governmental power resides within the cartel. Indicatively, Keith Sutherland, writing for the Quarterly Review of Summer 2011, quoted Yaxley-Lennon/Robinson’s assertion that “ordinary people feel betrayed by the political class” and identified this feeling as a driver for EDL membership. The corollary of political cartelisation is a withering of political diversity.

There was a refreshing lack of platitudes about multiculturalism. Multiculturalist policies, strategies and laws have delivered a limited multiculturalism in the public sphere only. Many people go home to communities consisting of a limited range of enthnicities or perhaps even just one. Multiculturalism can only arise spontaneously when individuals feel empowered to transgress the boundaries of community and reach out to other individuals doing the same. Yaxley-Lennon/Robinson once put it succinctly: “multiculturalism is where people from different communities meet, fall in love and have children”.

What happened at the Adam Smith Institute on 2 March was little short of a miracle, in that people from different classes and ethnicities came together to discuss a subject on which opinions are generally polarised along ethnic and class lines. One sign of that miracle is that after the lecture I heard a lady who identified herself as opposing the EDL say “I was holding myself back”. That’s what happens when things are brought into the light: we self-censor, we hold back. John’s and Elizabeth’s detached, disinterested assessment, catalysed (I believe) the spread of light rather than heat, and that’s something we all took out into the night.

We look forward to John Meadowcroft and Elizabeth Morrow publishing their research, on this and further projects.

John Meadowcroft at the IEA

Dr John Meadowcroft at the IEA, image from VIMEO.com

GERRY DORRIAN writes from Cambridge

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Last Post

Talleyrand

Talleyrand

Last Post

Stoddard Martin enjoys Linda Kelly’s latest offering

TALLEYRAND IN LONDON: The Master Diplomat’s Last Mission, by Linda Kelly, I. B. Tauris, £25

Linda Kelly is a pioneer in the genre of what one might call the non-fiction novella. This is no slighting phrase, nor meant to devalue her quality as a historian. If her ten books were to be taken as one, she would be seen as the author of a vast, engaging epic on English and French cultures and their interaction during seventy years of massive change, 1770-1840. In arts and letters, this period is called Romantic, and Kelly has been adept at detailing elements of that phenomenon in theatre, poetry and to a degree music – thus her portraits of Sheridan, Kemble and Sarah Siddons; her evocations of the myth of Chatterton, the life of Tom Moore and the movement of French writers of the Orléanist decade; her miniature of the Burney household during the year of the Gordon Riots. In all of these tableaux the politics of tumultuous times form a backdrop. The dramatis personae are players reacting to dislocation at the top, those Byron labelled ‘My friends the Whigs’. Continue reading

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Regionalism and Nationalism in Canada

Canada-Map-Political-City

Regionalism and Nationalism in Canada

The third of a series of articles by Mark Wegierski to mark the Sesquicentennial of Canadian Confederation

The historical context

The problem of centre-periphery relations in a society, and of how a geographically extensive country extending beyond the confines of a city-state, can be effectively governed, are two of the most pressing problems in political theory.

One failure of the Ancient Greeks was that they found it difficult to extend their political units beyond the city-state. The surrounding area, Attica, had been forged into a unified entity, a solid home base for the empire. However, the Athenian Empire did not meet the challenge of governing divergent cities beyond Attica. Some political thinkers, notably Rousseau, believed that democracy outside of a small city of tens of thousands of citizens, was virtually impossible, and mostly meaningless. Certainly, the ancient empires ruled geographically extensive areas through various kinds of governors, with little popular consultation. Continue reading

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