"I have had several enjoyable pints of beer at The George public house in Great Portland Street. There was always a wonderful atmosphere that seemed to exude history. I am not particularly sensitive to the supernatural, but I could not help being conscious of the ‘ghosts’ of virtually every 20th century composer that I admire. The nickname ‘The Gluepot’ was coined by Sir Henry Wood: he was always ‘frustrated’ by his orchestral players’ reluctance to drag themselves away from the bar and back to rehearsals at the Queen’s Hall. The name ‘stuck.’ The litany of composers frequenting the bar include Arnold Bax, Peter Warlock, Alan Bush, Jack Moeran, John Ireland, Alan Rawsthorne, William Walton, Constant Lambert, Humphrey Searle and Elisabeth Lutyens. And it was not just composers. Poets Louis MacNeice, Randall Swingler, Roy Campbell and Dylan Thomas (what pub did Dylan not frequent?) were habitués. Although I tended to think of musicians and poets when drinking in The George, it is fair to say that it was also popular with employees from the BBC’s Broadcasting House at Langham Place. If only the walls could talk: what fascinating crack and conversation they could recall.
Elisabeth Lutyens wrote in her autobiography A Goldfish Bowl that ‘I remember at one lunch someone remarking that if a bomb dropped on The George a large proportion of the musical and literary world would be destroyed.’ For Lutyens, this pub was the ‘focal point’ of her social and professional life for several years. It is a testament to a largely lost era.
This impressive CD is a perfect introduction to some of the most evocative choral music composed by 20th century British composers - all with connections to The Gluepot. There are some old favourites here, alongside some new discoveries (at least for me).
The programme opens with Peter Warlock’s lovely setting of Robert Nichols poem, ‘The Full Heart.’ This piece was surely written in response to his discovery of Delius’s music whilst he [Warlock] was still at Eton College.
A new work for me is Alan Rawsthorne’s Four Seasonal Songs composed in 1956. This is a premiere recording. The liner notes describe Rawsthorne’s choral writing here as a ‘bracing, tightly constructed style.’ Certainly, there is a vibrancy about these songs that derive from the mood of the four late sixteenth/early seventeenth century poets. Sebastian Forbes has remarked on ‘the cleaner, mostly diatonic harmony and crisper almost baroque rhythm.’ It is a work that deserves to be in the choral repertoire. Poems set include ‘Now the Earth, the Skies, the Air’ (Anon), ‘To the Spring’ (Sir John Davies), ‘Autumn’ (Joshua Sylvester) and ‘Now the lusty Spring is seen’ (John Fletcher).
I enjoyed the perfect fusion of words (James Kirkup) and music of John Ireland’s ‘The Hills’ written in 1952 as part of A Garland for the Queen. One of my favourite part-songs on this CD is John Ireland’s ‘Twilight Night’. This was composed in 1922, setting a text by Christina Rossetti. The music reflects a friendship sundered by distance and obligation but retaining an optimistic hope of meeting at some future date. A perfect conceit.
Equally effective, is Fred. Delius’s ravishing ‘On Craig Dhu’ with its extensive use of chromaticism making this music hang in the cool air, mirroring Arthur Symons’s thoughts as he sits high on this Welsh[?] Hill surveying the surrounding landscape.
And then there is ‘Verses of Love’ by Elisabeth Lutyens herself. This gorgeous setting of words by Ben Jonson is the perfect antidote to those who still rail against the music of ‘Twelve Tone Lizzie.’ This is a longish work that explores a wide-range of choral possibilities, including tone-clusters and glissandi. It was originally published in the Musical Times in 1970. Her ubiquitous serialism has been put to one side for something infinitely more universal.
The major work on this CD is E.J. Moeran’s 'Songs of Springtime'. This collection includes some delightful texts by William Shakespeare, John Fletcher, Thomas Nashe, Samuel Daniel, William Browne and Robert Herrick. These part-songs are influenced by Peter Warlock and reflect a charmingly English atmosphere. They are characterised by their appealing rhythmical diversity and piquant harmonies and never lapse into pastiche of their Elizabethan exemplars. ‘Songs of Springtime’ are not easy to sing: the Londinium chamber choir give a perfect account.
William Walton’s ‘Where does the uttered Music go?’ (John Masefield) written for the unveiling of a memorial stained-glass window in St Sepulchre’s Church, Holborn Viaduct dedicated to Sir Henry Wood is given a fine performance. This is an appropriate ‘tie in’ to The Gluepot!
The settings by Alan Bush are first hearings for me. ‘Like Rivers Flowing’ was composed in 1957 and was dedicated to the ‘people of Llangollen and all who sing there.’ Clearly this reflects the annual Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod which was inaugurated in 1943. It was originally ‘For the WMA [Workers Musical Association] Singers, Welsh Festival’ reflecting the composer’s socialist ideals. The text of this tender, idyllic piece was by the composer’s wife Nancy Bush.
Bush’s other part-song on this CD is the ‘powerful response’ to the German destruction of the village of ‘Lidice’ in what is now the Czech Republic, during June 1942. This is a deeply moving and often desperately intense setting, as the events suggest, of words by Nancy Bush. The premiere was given by the WMA Singers, conducted by the composer, on the site of the destroyed village. There is a picture of this event included in the liner notes.
Although the immediate inspiration of Arnold Bax’s massive ‘Mater ora filium’ was hearing William Byrd’s Five-Part Mass at Harriet Cohen’s house at Wyndham Place, he has not indulged in parody. This work for double choir is a splendid example of Bax’s individual contrapuntal style. This is an extremely difficult piece to ‘bring off’: it does not defeat the Londinium chamber choir. This version is superb. Bax’s setting is timeless: it needs no argument about musical allusions or influences.
The other Bax work is ‘I sing of a Maiden that is makeless’, being a mediation on the Virgin Mary. This lovely chromatic piece is largely through-composed. It is an ideal evocation of Our Lady’s perfection.
I cannot fault anything about this recording. The choice of music is inspirational. The singing by the Londinium chamber choir is near-perfect and the presentation of the CD is ideal. The liner notes give a good introduction to the repertoire and to ‘The Gluepot.’ The texts of the part-songs are included. Composer and works dates would have been helpful in the track listings.
I understand that The Gluepot, itself has now closed (as in shut for good, not just Time, Gentlemen, Please!). It appears to be ‘under development’ so one wonders what will appear in its place? It is probably the end of an era. I am privileged to have drunk there and shared good conversation with friends in that iconic watering hole."
John France, MusicWeb International (May 2018)