A Celebration of William Lloyd Webber
Classicalsource March 2014
St Martin’s Voices
Andrew Earis (organ)
Charlotte Scott (violin), Julian Lloyd Webber (cello) & Rebeca Omordia (piano)
Nicholas Wearne (organ)
Rowan Morton Gledhill (presenter)
St Martin-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square, London
Tuesday, March 11, 2014 Given the fame of his two sons, Andrew and Julian, it was perhaps surprising that this celebration of their father William Lloyd Webber’s centenary, given on the day itself, was not a more glitzy affair. However the understated nature of the event was wholly in keeping with the man’s character and this made the occasion all the more touching.
William Lloyd Webber (1914-1982) was one of British music’s most enigmatic composers. Possessed with a remarkable gift for melody, he felt – as the concert’s excellent presenter, Rowan Morton Gledhill, explained – “out of step” with the times and simply ceased composing for a large part of his life. W. Lloyd Webber wrote deeply romantic, heartfelt music at a time when those qualities were least valued and here we heard numerous examples of his melodic and beautifully written miniatures, ably performed by St Martin’s Voices under Andrew Earis (Director of Music at St Martin-in-the-Fields) although there were times when we might have wished for a greater range of dynamics.
Two anthems, Most Glorious Lord of Lyfe and Lo! My Shepherd is Divine, opened the concert and preceded what may well, incredibly, have been the first performance of an assured four-part song, Margery. Earis then played two short but piquant organ solos – ‘Christ in the Tomb’ from The Divine Compassion, and Trumpet Minuet – before Lloyd Webber’s younger son, cellist Julian, made the first of his two contributions to the evening. He revealed that his father had told him that In the Half Light for cello and piano depicts someone sitting by the fire late one night looking back over their life. He gave an exquisite performance, ably partnered by Rebeca Omordia. The first half ended with possibly the finest of the chosen works, the choral Missa Princeps Pacis, a beautifully crafted and proportioned composition with echoes of Fauré, performed here with delicacy.
And it was St Martin’s Voices that began the second half in rousing style with Love Divine, All Loves Excelling, followed by another part-song premiere: the simple but breathtakingly beautiful The Moon. From the organ loft, violinist Charlotte Scott and organist Nicholas Wearne (organist at St Martin-in-the-Fields) then performed the soaring Benedictus for Violin and Organ which Lloyd Webber had written to play at his own wedding service together with his violinist bride Jean. A deceptively simple piano miniature ‘Willow Song’ from the cycle Three Spring Miniatures was sensitively played by Omordia who was then again joined by Julian in the darkly romantic Nocturne. A fascinating evening concluded with ‘New Life in Christ’, the last part of the cantata, The Saviour, the Parry-like final pages of which are as thrilling and climactic as anything to be found in British choral music.
Gramophone August 1998
Though William Lloyd Webber, father of Andrew and Julian, was dedicated in his career as a church organist and teacher, he was, behind that façade, an arch-romantic. Even more than previous recordings of his music, the collection often short pieces on the Chandos disc brings that out very clearly, and both discs under consideration here, the Priory issue of organ pieces as well, consistently reveal how he wrote tunes quite as fluently as his son, Andrew.
Though one of the orchestral pieces, Lento, was written as early as 1939, most of this music, including all the organ pieces, dates from the decade following the Second World War. He then felt that he was out of touch with post-war developments and stopped writing until not long before his death in 1982, when without telling even his family — he began to compose again.
Throughout his composing career his style remained consistent, unashamedly eclectic, combining English pastoral elements with passages of surging passion using luscious harmonies after Rachmaninov. So the Serenade for Strings emerges as an integrated piece, even though the three movements were originally written at quite different times and for different combinations the opening “Barcarolle” as a song in 1951. the central “Romance” — the emotional core of the work—in 1980, and the final ‘Elegy’ in 1960, originally a horn study for Andrew to play as a student.
Most of the pieces are in ternary form. A-B-A, and make their points simply and effectively, but the tone-poem, Aurora, is altogether more ambitious, a piece earlier recorded by Lorin Maazel as a coupling for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Variations for cello and orchestra (Philips, 3/87 – nla). The hushed opening reminds me of the start of Bartok’s Miusic for Strings, Percussion and Ce/esta, only anglicized with a touch of Vaughan Williams. It then quickly develops in a colourful sequence of episodes. beautifully orchestrated, and here receives an ideally warm, aptly sensuous performance under Hickox.
Predictably, the soloists are excellent – Tasmin Little in the sweetly lyrical Benedictus. Julian Lloyd Webber and Skaila Kanga in the exotic Nocturne, not to mention the schoolgirl, Hollie Cook, soloist, with the Arts Educational School Choir in the final item, Jesus, dear Jesus, a simple anthem written for the school where the composer’s wife taught. Like Benjamin Britten’s Missa brevis of a few years earlier, Lloyd Webber’s Princeps pacis Mass was written for the Choir of Westminster Cathedral, very much on the same scale but in a more conventional Anglican style, fresh and open.
The disc of organ music is much more a specialist issue, one to welcome as the first recording on the refurbished Willis organ at Salisbury Cathedral, with Jane Watts exploiting the full range of the instrument. Roughly half the 22 pieces here are typical examples of hushed and meditative organ music intended to fill in discreetly between items in a service, with five more designed as bright and energetic voluntaries for speeding congregations out of church, all of them blowing cobwebs away in brassy registration. There are few more pretensions in the writing than that, but the point to note is how consistently Lloyd Webber is not just lyrical in his writing but tuneful, with melodies staying in the mind, not just meandering.
There are Franckian echoes in the chromaticism of the Chorale. Cantilena and Fugue, but generally the style is very similar to that of the orchestral pieces. The note reproduces a fascinating cutting from The Radio Times of January 1929, when the 14-year-old Lloyd Webber as a prodigy gave a BBC broadcast recital from the church of St Mary-le-Bow. As usual with Priory issues, a full specification of the organ is given.
The Independent on Sunday 6th October 1996
William Lloyd Webber ‘Nocturne’
Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons
Julian Lloyd Webber plays William Lloyd Webber
Golden Moment of the Week came in the unlikely context of Raymond Blanc’s still, sadly, token music festival at the Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons near Oxford. It opened on Tuesday with Julian Lloyd Webber and John Lenehan playing bits and pieces calculated to spoil no one’s appetite. But in the middle of them came a glorious reading of Delius’s single-movement Cello Sonata followed by a jewel-like Nocturne that could almost have passed for Ravel but was in fact an exquisite miniature by William (pere) Lloyd Webber. Delivered from the heart but with an unaffected dignity it was the most purely pleasurable cello-playing I’ve heard in ages.