Thursday, 4 March 2010

Wyn Morris and the Symphony Of A Thousand

I had rather lost touch with the career of Wyn Morris, who died last week. The Telegraph obituary makes it all too clear why he seldom appeared in the musical headlines. However, he was responsible for what must have been the first British recording of Mahler's Symphony No. 8. Morris cannot have been quite as disorganised as the obituarist makes out; this was a major undertaking. Because of its huge choral as well as orchestral demands, and because Mahler's reputation had been in decline until then, this had hardly been performed in this country before Charles Groves conducted it for a Prom in the 1960s, an overwhelming performance, which I was lucky enough to get a promenade ticket for.

Morris's recording was made in 1972, prior to a performance (also in the Royal Albert Hall, a perfect venue for the work) with an orchestra, the Symphonica of London, which he and Isabella Wallich had put together. It was the first (and possibly the last?) symphonic release for the label "Independent World Releases". It wasn't something you would come across in your average record shop, and I chanced to spot it in a specialist outlet in, if I recall correctly, Birmingham.

There are Welsh links. Morris was born in Gwent, and Wallich was the niece of the great Fred Gaisberg, who had travelled to Craig-y-Nos castle to make priceless recordings of diva Adelina Patti.

Now looking at the sleeve again, I spot some interesting names among the personnel. In the trumpet section, there was John Wilbraham, who was also into folk-rock and jazz, and Roy Copestake, who became a founder member of the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble. Tristan Fry, also eclectic, was one of the three percussionists and alongside the ubiquitous Marie Goosens was the harpist David Snell, who also featured on the Dankworth album I posted about earlier.

A sleeve note is taken from a "Country Life" review by Stewart Deas. It concludes: "No orchestra this size can play well together of its own volition, no matter how expert each individual player may be. Indeed, just because they are all expert players with ideas of their own, they may well present the conductor with special difficulties. He has to be prepared to ride the storm and issue the commands that will steer ship (the music) and crew (the players) safely to their destination. Wyn Morris did just that and he did it admirably."


Anonymous said...

Nice to find a piece by someone else who recalls Morris' Mahler 8th recording with affection!

For the record (pun not intended!), Independent World Releases didn't end there. In 1974 they followed up with a Morris/Symphonica recording of Mahler's 5th, coupled with Leider Eines Fahrenden Gesellen. Thereafter they metamorphosed into Symphonica Music Ltd. and carried on with, in order of release, a fine Eroica, a disc of Debussy and Chausson (featuring Montserrat Caballe, no less), Mahler's 2nd, a recording of Beethoven's Diabelli Variations by Charles Rosen, and finally the Emperor Concerto, with Rosen again at the piano. All of the above - except, obviously, the Diabelli - featured the Symphonica of London and were conducted by Morris. I'm not familiar with the Debussy/Chausson disc but the rest are worth tracking down!

Oh, and IWR/Symphonica's distribution improved over time - I picked up most of their later releases in various branches of HMV, although with the 8th I too had only been able to find it in a specialist outlet, in my case in Manchester.

Frank H Little said...

I'm very grateful for the extra information and delighted to receive this message out of the blue.

Coincidentally, there was a good performance of the 8th on Radio 3 a few days ago, from, if I remember correctly, Symphony Hall.