Home

Biographical

Interview

Reviews

Galleries

Reminiscences

Miscellany

Audio/Video

Discography

Links

REVIEWS (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) (8) (9) (10) (11) (12) (13) (14)

DSC00888BBweb DSC00892Aweb DSC00894Aweb1
DSC00913Aweb1
DSC00911Bweb

Harpsichord Concerto No. 2, BWV 1053
George Malcolm, harpsichord, German Bach Soloists / Helmut Winschermann
Italian Concerto in F Major, BWV 971
George Malcolm, harpsichord
Harpsichord Concerto No. 7, BWV 1058
George Malcolm, harpsichord, German Bach Soloists / Helmut Winschermann
Chromatic Fantasy in d-minor, BWV 903
George Malcolm, harpsichord
Concerto in d-min for 3 harpsichords and strings, BWV 1063
George Malcolm, Valda Aveling, Geoffrey Parsons, harpsichords - ECO/Leppard
 

Easily the best-attended recital of the week at the Freemasons' Hall was given by George Malcolm on the harpsichord. Bach is always a sure winner at an Edinburgh Festival, but I doubt if any anybody present in the audience on Thursday had ever heard a finer performance of the incredibly complex Goldberg Variations. This great virtuoso of one of the mostly subtly difficult instruments was in great form, and coped with the formidable technical and musical difficulties with as much composure as if he were Goldberg himself playing to cure the insomnia of Count von Kaiserling. A rapturous ovation greeted a truly memorable feature of musicianship. Tablet (1960)

GRAMOPHONE RECORDS (78rpm)

Salve Regina H.M.V. B9823
Hail Queen of Heaven (10-inch)
Soul of My Saviour H.M.V. B9822
To Christ the Prince of Peace ) (10-inch)
Pange Lingua ) H.M.V. C3914
Jesus, my Lord, my God, my All (12-inch)
Sweet Saviour, Bless us ere we go H.M.V. C.3915
Look down, 0 Mother Mary (12-inch)

The Westminster Cathedral Choir, under its conductor George Malcolm, has given us, in these four records, exemplary performances of six representative and well-loved hymns, with the Corpus Christi Pange Lingua (plainchant, with alternate verses in a harmonized setting by Palestrina), and a beautiful and relatively unfamiliar plainchant Salve Regina—the gem of the collection— thrown in for good measure. The freshness and purity of the singing should bring a new delight to the many who have known these hymns from their childhood, and, in a different way, to those converts who bring into the Catholic Church a love of good hymns and hymn-singing, only to find it starved or kept on penitential fare. Let us hope that the standard set by these performances, in dignity, simplicity and, above all, in steadiness of tempo, may be followed by choirs and congregations all over the country. Let us also hope that these recordings may meet with such a welcome as to encourage choir and conductor to venture further afield next time, and record not only some of the equally fine but less familiar hymns in the Westminster Hymnal for our encouragement, but also a selection from its splendid repertory of plainchant and sixteenth-century polyphony.
Tablet (1949)

Another versatile musician is our own George Malcolm, a virtuoso harpsichordist equally at ease with Scarlatti and Bach, or in Alec Templeton's Bach goes to Town and a fantastic arrangement of RimskyKorsakov's Flight of the Bumble-Bee. He is also an accomplished pianist and organist, and at one time directed the music at Westminster Cathedral (Britten wrote his Missa Brevis for Malcolm and his choir there). As a 70th birthday tribute ASV have issued a three-record box of Handel's twelve Concerti grossi Op. 6, played by the Northern Sinfonia of England with George Malcolm this time as conductor. The performances are stylish, the tempos well judged and the recording first-rate. The group of gifted players inevitably owes much to Malcolm's enthusiasm and exceptional understanding of 18th-century musical practice. This is not the only recording of Op. 6 at present available but, it is undoubtedly one of the best, full of variety and often so jovial that the most melancholy spirit could not fail to be cheered by it. The set can be highly recommended (ASV DCAB 203, 3 records). Tablet (1987)

Marc Antoine Charpentier's very charming "Messe de minuit ", in which the various parts of the Ordinary, together with the Offertory, are set to traditional French carols, is recorded by King's College Chapel Choir and the English Chamber Orchestra on HMV ASD 2340, together with Purcell's " Te Deum ". I must mention, also, George Malcolm's charming, but not yet recorded, " Mlissa ad Praesepe" picturing the angels and shepherds singing together at the Crib. Alec Robertson, Tablet (1969)

Among recent budget-priced issues I recommend Handel's Concerti Crossi Op.3 played by the Northern Sinfonia of England conducted by George Malcolm in ASV's excellent Quicksilva series. These six concertos first appeared in 1734, though much of the music dates from a long time before; even so, and accepting that the Opus 6 set of 12 concertos surpasses them and ranks among the peaks of eighteenth-century works in this form, Opus 3 is also full of music to enjoy, especially when it is as well played and recorded as it is here under one of the leading specialists in the music of this period (ZCQS 6024,MC; CDQS 6024,CD). John Lade, Tablet (1988)

Bach: Mass in B minor - Enescu

The official unlocking of the BBC sound archives bought to life a string of legendary recordings, none better than the present one. Enescu had a special affinity for Bach and indeed if one searches the catalogue of recordings that Enescu left us, Bach appears more often than any composer including Enescu himself. 1951, the year in which the recording was made, was the dawn of period instruments movements and shortly such esteemed groups as Concentus Musicus were about to come to life. Though the present recording is a modern instruments one, it uses a smaller orchestra and chorus than was the norm at that time and the tempi are livelier.

Enescu was already interested in authenticity and in fact once had an argument with Pablo Casals about the phrasing of a passage from a Bach Partita. Certainly such details are important and those of you who prefer *only* period instruments should perhaps stay away from this recording. But anyone else should rush to hear it. The soloists are wonderful: Danco, Ferrier, and Pears are in their splendid prime, Bruce Boyce sings "Et in Spiritum Sanctum" almost pathetically, putting meaning in every single word, and Norman Walker, who is not listed in the booklet, gives a fine reading of "Quoniam". Enescu's conducting is the stuff dreams are made of: he clearly loves the music and if today's listener may be shocked by the choice of tempi - which as I have said, are livelier than what was the norm at that time - as well as by the forward choral sound, the phrasing and warmth will keep one longing for more once the recording is finished. Just listen to these warm strings and oboes or to the delicate flutes! I have never heard the Boyd Neel Orchestra sounding better. One should not also forget the contributions of the instrumental soloists, notably George Malcolm at the continuo harpsichord.

The weak part about the recording is the sound which is often muddy, no more than in "Quoniam" where the horn played by Douglas Moore is barely audible, though often better than that. Also the balances are a problem, notably the dynamics of the trumpets and drums. Still, anybody who has slight interest in great, timeless performances of timeless music should not hesitate.

Adding to what I have previously said about the recording: while it is true that some of the booklets of the initial release of this recording do not list Norman Walker's name, BBC has corrected that mistake and now Norman Walker is properly listed as the bass soloist. Whatever the booklet, this remains one of the great performances of any work of Bach, indeed one of the great performances of anything. George Munru, JSBach.org (1999)

This is another of my series, "Which Brandenburg?" (JSBach.org)

For those who still cannot quite attune their ears to the style of string playing favoured by the authentic school, there are several excellent alternatives. Marriner's analogue Philips set has been remastered since it was first issued and the sound is both natural and lively. Above all, these performances communicate warmth and enjoyment; and they are strong in personality, with Henryk Szeryng, Jean-Pierre Rampal and Michala Petri adding individuality to three of the concertos without breaking the consistency of beautifully sprung performances. George Malcolm is the ideal continuo player, as he is in the later HMV recording. GFF (1995)

This is a very safe recording and I highly recommend it to both novice and expert. The orchestra is not huge, nor is it too small. The recording is both warm and lively. St. Martin-in-the-Fields is one of those extremely reliable orchestras whose performances are always excellent and I would recommend anything by them. Once again, we have a long list of superstar soloists: Heinz Holliger, George Malcolm, Jean-Pierre Rampal, Michala Petri. There's a reason these names are superstars: their playing is expressive and true to the score. I have found that with some of the newer soloists they feel they have to put their "personal stamp of interpretation" on what they're playing and feel obligated to produce something "new." Sometimes it works and is terrific but too many times it produces something unlistenable and the melodies are not even recognisable. I find this to be true of a few pianists, some instrumental soloists and a few conductors. Maybe I'm just a musical fuddy-duddy but I like to recognise my Bach when I hear it. No problem here: this recording is beautiful. Interestingly, for the second movement of Concero. No. 3 he substitutes BWV 1019a for the second movement (BWV 1019 is a sonata for violin and harpsichord). Bach left it open for inprovisation and most orchestras simply play the cadence in a stylised (or not) form. This is a wonderful exception and enhances my recommendation of this recording. If I had to come up with a criticism I would say that some of the movements are a tiny bit too fast, but just a tiny bit, and I find Nos. 4 and 5 to be a little choppy. But these are very minor complaints and I will be enjoying this recording as one of my favourites.
JH (1995)

Handel, Northern Sinfonia, George Malcolm - Concerti Grossi Op.3

Handel is of course best known for his choral music - oratorios such as 'The Messiah' and anthems such as "Zadok The Priest" - but he also wrote instrumental music for ceremonial - the "Royal Fireworks", the "Water Music", and incidental music for royal weddings - some of which makes up the concerti included on this disk. A concerto grosso is chamber music at its best - a conversation between the participating instruments (usually strings, harpsichord or chamber organ and woodwind), with the chance for all to shine, rather than one to stand out. This probably cannot be strictly classed as sacred music, but the playing of the Northern Sinfonia of England on this budget-priced disk (first released, it seems, in 1978) is very fine, and shows off Handel's baroque brilliance in all its flamboyance. Liz Knowles

GMnew

BACH: BRANDENBURG CONCERTOS & ORCHESTRAL SUITES

While most serious listeners already have their favorite sets of J.S. Bach's Brandenburg Concertos and the Orchestral Suites, newcomers searching for respectable recordings at a reasonable price would do well to start with this triple-CD set by Neville Marriner and the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields. These recordings were made in 1984 and 1985, and still offer fine sound for early digital recording and exceptional musical value. Marriner's performances may not be as exacting and scrupulous about Baroque performance practice as those of Gustav Leonhardt or Trevor Pinnock, but they are informed by serious scholarship and have sufficient appeal to make the finer points debatable.

The playing is, as always, impeccably clean, deeply musical, and reasonably authentic in execution, even though the Academy uses modern instruments, a rub for purists. While these performances lack the charming timbres of period instruments and are possibly too full-sounding for connoisseurs of a leaner Baroque sound, the fair-minded listener will not find them deficient at all in spirit or color. The Brandenburg Concertos are robust and exciting, and the soloists are all first-rate. Especially noteworthy, George Malcolm's harpsichord solo in the Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 is vigorous and clearly audible against the orchestra.

Marriner's recordings of Bach's Orchestral Suites Nos. 1-4 are admirable for their meticulous musicianship, close approximation of period practice, and fine digital sound for the time. Most listeners will appreciate these credible and energetic performances, particularly of the Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B minor, which is given a rather robust character and played with as much panache as the more extroverted suites that follow. Naturally, the brass dominate the Suite No. 3 in D major, and the Suite No. 4 in D major, and the ensemble makes these works sound festive and jubilant. But the Air of the Suite No. 3 (also known as the "Air on the G string") impresses with its contrasting introspection, and the Academy plays it with exceptional tenderness.

BACH: KEYBOARD CONCERTI - SCHIFF/ECO/MALCOLM
Recorded in Henry Wood Hall, London, August 1979
Dal Segno DSPRCD042 [75:60]

András Schiff, it turns out, was a pupil of the legendary George Malcolm, so any concerns about Cold War era culture clash are easily dismissed. The close communication and musical empathy between the two men is everywhere apparent. Many readers will be familiar with Schiff’s flowing, but always disciplined, approach to Bach, and that’s the way he plays it in this early recording. And George Malcolm gets exactly the same interpretation from his orchestra; both piano and ensemble sing, with warm lyrical lines, subtle but intelligently employed rubato and the sort of variety of articulation that, if it were performed like this today, could well have the power to resuscitate the tradition of Bach on modern instruments.

So no danger of mechanical performance, and no danger Gould-like tempo extremes either. But while the performances avoid extremes, they never feel safe or middle-of-the-road. Where some period performers (and Glenn Gould) would be tempted to propel the outer movements with fast tempi, Schiff achieves an inner propulsion in the counterpoint that gives these movements all the life they need. And in the slow middle movements it is all about cantabile. The audio ensures that bass lines and counterpoints are all represented, but this music revolves around the melodic line, to spectacularly beautiful effect. (Gavin Dickson)

By contrast, but also from 1978, was a favourite record engineered by Tryggvi Tryggvason for a small audiophile label, the Bach Orchestral Suites Nos 3 and 4 with the New Chamber Soloists conducted by George Malcolm [Merlin MRF 78901]. This brought out the best in the Giro turntable, with its ability to sound clear and informative in the treble region without lapsing into harshness. There was a great feeling of unhurried mastery in the playing, bringing those stately dance rhythms to life. Hifi News (2009)

Top of page

“The harpsichord concerto is neatly played, tempi distinctly on the lively side, but with spruce rhythms from Neville Marriner’s orchestra and a crisp and brilliant account of the harpsichord part from George Malcolm.” Gramophone (Haydn Harpsichord Concerto)

In fact, the way Yehudi Menhuin leads the Bath Festival Orchestra in his readings of the Four Orchestral Suites reminds me very much of that old 2-LP set I had by Casals and the Marlboro Orchestra way back when. Denis Clift's trumpeting in the Brandenburg Concerto No. 2, more than any other recording of the music I've heard, reminds me of the opening of William Buckley's weekly polticial talk show that used to be on PBS in the 1970s. And George Malcolm's loving playing of Largo from the Harpsichord Concerto in F, BWV 1056, reminds me of its use in Woody Allen's film "Hannah and Her Sisters".

Otherwise there are multiple felicities inside this box. While Menhuin gets top billing and has his face plastered on every slipcase, I think harpsichordist George Malcolm is the star of the program. Playing a harpsichord that sounds a lot like the one Lurch played on "The Addams Family" television show of the period, Malcolm is always the arbiter or propriety and good judgment in the various concerti, whether he is playing solo or with partners in 2-, 3- or 4-harpsichored concerti featuring the likes of Thurston Dart, Denis Mathews and Simon Preston. In particular, the concerti BWV 1054, 1060-61 and 1064-65 are wonderfully done with taste, humanity and style.

I would also draw attention to magnificent readings of the Triple Concerto BWV 1044 and the Double Concerto for violin and harpsichored BWV 1066. I think the former concerto, which features marvelous playing by soloists Menhuin on violin, William Bennett on flute, and Malcolm on harpsichord, is one of the most satisfyings readings of this music I've ever heard.

The Bath Festival Orchestra is never less than inspired under Menhuin in the Brandenburg concertos, where they are ably assisted by soloists Malcolm, flautist Elaine Schaffer, and Christopher Taylor on recorder, among others. While Menhuin's style in the Orchestral Suites may seem a tad reserved and deliberate by 21st century PPP standards, they are never less than musically performed and always project the Bach that begot 20-plus children and buried 10 of them and a young wife during his lifetime. There is nary an episode of showmanship or stylistic pursuit for its own purposes; everything is done to illuminate Bach and his message.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I must confess that I'm interested mostly in this collection of Bach's music because the flautist is Elaine Shaffer. My first exposure to her playing was the Bach Flute Sonatas, and that was maybe 25 years ago that I purchased the two volume set on vinyl LP's. And still, 25 years later, I have yet to hear the Sonatas played more beautifully than by by Ms. Shaffer. The flute world owes her a great debt. She was the first female flute concert artist in the world. I'm sorry she came to an early end with lung cancer just two months after recording the Bach Sonatas and the piece for Flute and Piano she had a large part in getting commissioned by Copland in memory of her teacher at Curtis Institute, William Kincaid after his death. Her playing in this recording of Bach pieces with other great artists and the Bath Chamber Orchestra are tastefully and beautifully played, just like everything she played. I mourn her early departure from the music world.

DSC00891Bweb
Bachconcerti

Baroquemusiclibrary.com (right & below)

We have several recordings of the Northern Sinfonia of England, and I must say their Brandenburgs are among the best we have ever heard. The Northern Sinfonia of England interpretations are not the usual mechanical renderings that can put many listeners off Bach. George Malcolm's pedalled harpsichord is brilliant, almost emotional (if that is possible with Bach), and more interesting (i.e. less traditional) in this Baroque music. The use of flutes, in lieu of the more traditional recorders or flageolets, grants a more romantic quality to this highly organized music. Solo instruments in these concerti are mostly flutes and violins, and the Brandenburgs are among the sweetest and most full-fleshed of Bach's works. I could go on, but will conclude here by strongly recommending this particular recording to those who have not heard the Northern Sinfonia, or who are simply seeking a really outstanding Bach recording. A note on the Northern Sinfonia of England: it was Great Britain's first permanent chamber orchestra, and the ensemble adheres mostly to that genre of music. Their Brandenburg performances at the Proms [under GM] are the stuff of legend.
Amazon, Philly Gal (2008)

Gordon Jacob’s five-movement Sextet – now with George Malcolm as pianist – is a delight in its clarity, touching expression and rhythmic sleights. As Tully Potter annotates in his booklet note, it’s a “French-sounding” work, and intensified as such through the use of Gareth Morris’s wooden flute and Cecil James’s French bassoon. Jacob’s Sextet is an enjoyable listen. Should you not know, or be curious: oboist Leonard Brain was Dennis’s brother and, here, is an eloquent contributor to the opening of the third movement ‘Cortège’, the emotional core of Jacob’s Sextet, which was recorded less than six weeks before Dennis Brain was killed – in the early hours of 1 September 1957, he was driving back from the Edinburgh Festival; as he neared London his car crashed, presumably as a result of him falling asleep at the wheel. www.classicalsource.com

If I was forced, at knife-point say, to name my very favourite work by Britten, I think it might be his 1943 cantata Rejoice in the Lamb. It seems to me flawless and a perfect example of Britten's genius for word-setting. His treatment of Christopher Smart's adorably naive poem is infinitely touching, making one want to laugh and cry with joy. Decca have now transferred to CD the recording Britten conducted in 1958, with George Malcolm playing the organ (for which Britten writes as if it were an orchestra), a superb quartet of soloists (the treble in particular) and the Purcell Singers with their impeccable diction. It sounds as if it had been recorded yesterday.

St Nicolas belongs to the first Aldeburgh Festival of 1948 and epitomizes the spirit of the music-making there, a skilful blend of professional and amateur, of the homely and the sophisticated. It was the first of a series of works which led, via the glory of Noye's Fludde, to the rarefied Church Parables in which the amateur element had vanished. This recording was made in 1955 in Aldeburgh church with Aldeburgh Festival forces and Sir Peter Pears and David Hemmings as the soloists. It is, therefore, unique, unrepeatable and indispensable. Gramophone (1990)

What a range of technique and expression Britten explores, avoiding conventional symphonies and concertos in favour of inventing the church parables, the Cello Symphony, Noye's Fludde. Buried away on CD 65 ("Supplementary recordings") are some peerless gems – the gripping first recording of Abraham and Isaac with Norma Procter, which Britten suppressed because he wanted to use the alto John Hahessy, who appears on the very next track, duetting with Michael Berkeley; then Peter Pears and Britten jamming two of the Cabaret Songs, and the stunning Missa Brevis with the throaty boys of Westminster Cathedral in 1959 under George Malcolm. A treasure trove from a composer whose stature continues to rise and rise. Nicholas Kenyon. Guardian (2013)