20 JANUARY 1950, Page 12


PROBABLY not very much of the music written in the 1920s will interest our grandchildren, once its period flavour has been tried and enjoyed a mild vogue. A great deal of it fails to interest us, to whom novelty as an end in itself is already an exploded myth ; but two works were given in London last week which might fairly be said to represent the best characteristics of that decade.

Vaughan Williams's Flos Campi, which was included in a Prom. programme on January 12th, appeared in 1925. It is a suite of six short movements for solo viola, small orchestra and small chorus ; and though each movement has a' motto taken from the Song of Solomon, no words are sung, the chorus merely vocalising. The combination and its use are unusual, and border on that freak- ishness which was characteristic of the period. The music itself is written in a style which would be a downright affectation in any other composer ; and certainly there is more than a hint of pre- ciosity in the crossing of Oriental melodic mannerisms with English folksong, the using of the human voice as an instrument while the viola (least able of all stringed instruments to achieve a true cantabile) utters its hoarse comments on texts whose interpretation varies from the literally erotic to the allegorically mystical.

This quality of perverseness was typical of the years when it was written, and is shared by the other work of the same date, Bartok's fourth quartet. This was admirably played by the Hungarian String Quartet at the Wigmore Hall on January 15th, when the delicate, almost entomological, beauty of much of the writing (especially in the muted prestissiino) was shown to its full advan- tage. The element of freakishness is strong in this work, too—not only in the occasional exploiting of dissonance for its own sake, but in the excessive use of portamento, which, too, often reduces the four instruments to so many tom-cats. * * * * My brow is neither high nor low enough to enable me whole- heartedly to enjoy Madame Butterfly. The strong musical-comedy affinities of Act I bore me, and I begin to feel that if opera must be Japanese I prefer The Mikado. But the delicate workmanship and the pretty pathos of Act 2 must win anyone with an ear and a heart; and in the new Covent Garden production Mme. Schwarzkopf really rose to the tragic lyricism of the last scenes. The Italian Pinkerton is more cynically caddish than the English translation implies, and Mr. Neate's attitude to his Japanese servants and relations, even to Butterfly herself, was tolerant and superior, but never blatantly contemptuous, as both Puccini and his librettists suggest. His singing lacked genuine lyrical abandon, but was always pleasing Monica Sinclair was a touching Suzuki, and her voice has the promise of great dramatic quality. Tom Williams's Sharpless was natural and easy, only spoiled by an unfortunate tendency to grimace, which was somehow rendered more noticeable by the fact of his being dressed in a lounge suit and bow tie. Robert Help- mann's production and Sophie_ Fedorovotich's sets caught the right note of simple prettiness, though they were often spoiled by the unforgivable lighting effects, which varied from electric blue night to lurid ochres and pinks which suggested the imminence of another