C0068. VERNON HANDLEY Cond. London Phil., w.Valerie Masterson & Hammond-Stroud: The Starlight Express (Elgar). (U.K.) EMI 66008, recorded 1974-75. Long out-of-print, final sealed copy! - 724356600829
“Vernon Handley was a great musician who never quite achieved the fame he deserved - and, perhaps, so much desired.
I first got to know him when I was secretary of the Elgar Society London Branch and he gave a marvellous one-day course at Guildford in the early 1980s called ‘Elgar from the conductor’s point of view’ (though he quickly made it clear that it was really ‘Elgar from this conductor’s point-of-view’). This was a real tour-de-force for, although he had his programme worked out, and recorded illustrations all arranged in the correct order, to be managed by his assistant Alan Forrow of the Guildford Philharmonic Society, his own delivery appeared to be entirely spontaneous and without reference to notes. Comparisons of various recorded interpretations of Elgar’s music were involved, and how they matched (or didn’t match!) the printed score. He brought the house down, and had us eating out of his hand, by stating early on that he was not going to identify the conductors of the various excerpts, for ‘after all, some of these idiots are my friends’!
Tod had immense musical integrity, and for him - as with his mentor Sir Adrian Boult - the score was always the starting point, resulting in superb performances that reject the endless recycling of received opinions and get back to what is actually on the page, often with revelatory results. I remember a small but utterly illuminating moment in one of his brilliant talks to the Elgar Society, where he pointed out that at the words ‘The mind bold and independent’ (THE DREAM OF GERONTIUS, fig. 44), almost everybody, in recorded and live performances makes the note value of ‘The’ a semi-quaver, whereas it is actually a quaver. He was right – and the difference is actually very telling!
What also attracted me was of course the stick technique - an example of ‘real’ conducting rather than ‘waving yourself about’ in front of an orchestra. After the death of Rudolf Kempe in 1976 I had felt that there was no-one else who conducted properly any more, but Tod filled the gap, I think with a marvellous performance of Rakhmaninoff’s Second Symphony with the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall, where I realized that beneath all those big romantic tunes so much was happening to give the music a whole new dimension of passion and excitement. I’ve always admired those successful disciples of Nikisch who could say so much with their sticks and so make the music more powerful and telling as a result. The art that conceals art.
It was also apparent that after so many of Tod’s performances, orchestras - jaded or played out, perhaps - seemed utterly invigorated, though it is for the members of those orchestras to say whether or not this is correct.
In the latter years he would often look terrible, and totter to the rostrum for rehearsals, concerts, or recordings but, as soon as the stick came down and the music began, the years would fall away and energy and inspiration would emanate from him. I remember the same experience at Sir Adrian Boult’s concerts towards the end of his career. He deserves to be remembered and honoured for his contributions to music in so many ways additional to his performances, live and on record.”
- Garry Humphreys, MusicWebInternational