Chester, 1941 (rev.)
Orch., Handley (1989, CD )
Sir Adrian Boult,
Lyrita SRSC 43
(1970, LP )
Rhapsody No. 2 R26/R77
Second Rhapsody was commissioned in 1923 by the Norfolk and
Norwich Centenary Festival for 1924, and received its debut performance
under Moeran's baton just two months after the composer had conducted
his first Rhapsody at the Proms, in October and August 1924 respectively.
Yet the second Rhapsody was not heard again for five years, and
he came back to revise it in 1941.
This short history suggests that perhaps not all is
right with this work. indeed, Geoffrey Self goes so far as to say
"It is a flawed work. Its textures are crude...attempts
made at polyphony betray an uncertain apprentice hand".
Yet in 1929 the Manchester Guardian was to write that it "made
a good impression on the Promenaders tonight...there is so much
to listen to in this work".
From the Chandos
recording by Vernon Handley and the Ulster Orchestra, the
wonderful central theme:
Well in both cases some selective quotation seems
to perhaps mask the truth - see the full reviews and you'll see
what I mean. The Second Rhapsody is a very interesting work for
Moeran scholars, and contains some fabulous writing and melodies
for listeners. By the time of his mature works, Moeran was a master
at encapsulating broad ideas and themes in a tight space, knitting
together the logical threads of his musical argument in a way he
explored in a 1931 article, John
Ireland as Teacher.
But here we find the younger Moeran struggling somewhat.
In that article on Ireland he wrote: "All the music which
has escaped consignment to the shelf has been inherently logical.
Music, without logical continuity and shape, is lifeless from its
inception." Perhaps this is a lesson he had already learned.
Perhaps in learning that lesson he realised the value of stalling
work on the symphony he'd begun in the same year as he'd premiered
the Second Rhapsody, to return to it many years later, ready at
last to do his material justice.
Jack Moeran, late 1920's
As I said earlier, the Second Rhapsody does possess
some fine musical ideas. The central, broad slow melody is undoubtedly
one of Moeran's finest, and bursts from the surrounded music like
sunlight on a summer's day - a section of this is illustrated here.
The work sees some of Moeran's earliest genuine Irish influence,
at times unable to stop itself from leaping into a spontaneous jig.
And there's the Norfolk influence there too.
It is a work bursting at the seams with creativity
- too much so. He's often so keen to show us his next great idea
that we seem to say goodbye to the last idea too quickly. Just as
you're wondering where one theme is going to lead something else
starts bubbling under until it bursts through and shoulders the
last out of the way. In the push for each idea to get to the front
for a place in the spotlight the joins start to show.
The Second Rhapsody is one of the earliest examples
of a musical form Moeran was to make one of his trademarks - the
Rondo. Yet here he's still wrestling with the idea, and it seems
to have got the better of him somewhat.
In summary, the Second Rhapsody has all the ingredients
the more mature Moeran could have mixed to create a particularly
wonderful musical cake. Yet the less experienced hand, whilst making
a fair stab at it, let it sink a little in the oven and singed the
edges a bit. It still tastes great, but lacks the presentation skills
of the master chef. It would be eleven years before he published
another full orchestral score.
As a postscript, Moeran returned to the work in 1941
and revised it for a somewhat smaller orchestra. Whether this was
for musical or financial reasons (he was being courted by another
publisher at the time) is hard to say - perhaps he thought it had
enough in it to merit a second look.
The central, broad slow melody is undoubtedly
one of Moeran's finest...