Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Sir Philip Ledger - A Musician’s Legacy – a fitting tribute to a fine musician on a new release from The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland

During the years 1957 to 1982 the music at Kings College, Cambridge was in the hands of two inspirational Directors of Music, Sir David Wilcocks (1957-1974) and Sir Philip Ledger (1974-1982) .

Sir Philip Stevens Ledger, CBE (1937-2012) was born in Bexhill-on-Sea, Sussex, England in 1937 and educated at King's College, Cambridge. His appointment as master of the music at Chelmsford Cathedral in 1961 made him the youngest cathedral organist in the country. In 1965 he took up the directorate of music at the University of East Anglia, where he was also dean of the School of Fine Arts and Music.  In 1968 he became an artistic director of the Aldeburgh Festival and conducted at the Snape Maltings on many occasions, including the opening concert after its rebuilding.

Whilst Sir Philip was director of music at King's College, Cambridge from 1974 to 1982, he directed the Choir of King’s College in the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, made many recordings and took the choir to the United States, Australia, and Japan for the first time. In 1982, Sir Philip took the difficult decision to leave Kings College when offered the post of Principal of the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, which he held from 1982-2001. Sir Philip subsequently appeared as a conductor throughout the United Kingdom, North America, and Asia.

Whilst well known as a choral director, conductor and organist, it is less well known that he was also an accomplished pianist, accompanying Robert Tear on a fine EMI recording of Britten song cycles.

The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (RCS) (distributed through Nimbus) have just released a recording of Elgar’s Piano Quintet and Dvorak’s Second Piano Quintet, highlighting Sir Philip Ledger’s skills as a pianist, performed by Sir Philip and the Alberni Quartet live at the Matt Thomson Concert Hall at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in 2001.

NI 6220

In the Moderato – allegro of the Elgar Piano Quintet, Op.84, Philip Ledger and the Alberni Quartet bring a beautifully wistful opening with a second subject full of Elgar’s other worldliness. These players bring out so much of the hesitancy and uncertainty of mood in this late work and, at times, considerable fire. There is some great ensemble playing in this live recording. What a glorious adagio we get from Ledger and the Albernis, with a lovely ebb and flow, and so much sensitivity and passion. In the Andante – allegro there is some superb playing from Philip Ledger and the Quartet, who bring out more of the drama and feeling than many a much praised ensemble on other recordings. The coda is terrific with Sir Philip providing some magnificent playing as do the Alberni Quartet.

What this recording lacks in ultimate finesse it gains so much in spontaneity. This performance has a special quality to it, full of atmosphere and passion.

Dvorak’s Piano Quintet No.2 in A major, Op.81 gets some really spirited playing in the Allegro, ma non tanto with Philip Ledger showing his excellent keyboard technique.  In the lovely Dumka: Andante con moto there is some beautifully fluid and sensitive playing from Ledger with some earthy Bohemian sounds from the Alberni Quartet. Ledger and the Albernis seem to have great fun in the Scherzo (Furiant): molto vivace, playing for all they’re worth and, in the finely paced Finale: allegro, Sir Philip and the Albernis are completely at one in a fine conclusion to this quintet.

The live recordings are good with very little audience noise. The applause at the end of each work is retained on the recording. This is a wonderful tribute to a remarkably fine musician.


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