Posted: 10 October 2003
On Saturday, 13 September 2003, the James Allen Community Orchestra, conducted by Rupert Bond, gave a Concert in aid of the RNLI at St John's Smith Square in London. The items in the concert all had a 'sea' theme. The programme included Alan Bush's Variations, Nocturne and Finale on an Old Sea-Song for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 60, which was composed in 1962, published by Novello, 1973. This piece was originally scored as a composition for piano, and given its first performance in this version by Edna Iles (piano) at a Macnaghten Concert in London on 21 March 1958. Alan Bush withdrew the first two movements after this first performance, and later re-scored them as Variations, Nocturne and Finale in the version performed on 13 September 2003. Alan Bush retained the Nocturne and issued it as Nocturne for Piano Solo, Op. 46.
In her programme note, Barbara Kley described the piece as opening "with an arresting introduction on woodwind, brass and drums followed by a statement of the theme, a bold whaling song, on the piano. The theme is very short - a mere sixteen bars - and there follow thirteen variations, all equally short. The Nocturne, which follows without a break, is in ternary form. In the meditative opening and closing sections the composer has tried to evoke the nostalgia of a long voyage, while the central section is much busier with scurrying phrases in the orchestra punctuated by side drum and cymbal. The Finale seems to grow out of the Nocturne's middle section and its main theme is derived from the theme of the Variations. In this work, the composer, in addition to glorifying the piano, has paid tribute to man's courage and intelligence in the struggle to understand and control nature".
The piano part is very demanding, but Mark Bebbington, a very accomplished pianist, gave a virtuoso performance and he also entered into the spirit of the music very much in the way Alan Bush would have approved. The orchestra, conducted very ably by Rupert Bond, provided the support required by the soloist and played with great enthusiasm and panache. The work was well received by the audience, and Mark Bebbington, in particular, was deservedly applauded for his excellent performance of the solo part.
This work has not been performed for many years and never before in London. The first performance was given at the Cheltenham Festival in 1965. David Wilde (piano) and the BBC Northern & Midland Light Orchestra, conducted by Meredith Davies, performed it at a Cheltenham Festival Concert on 7 July 1965. It was then issued the following year as a LP on the Pye Golden Guinea Label, with David Wilde (piano), and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by John Snashall. It was later broadcast on BBC Radio 3 in a Morning Concert, again with David Wilde (piano) and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by John Snashall on 22 December 1975. There was a further broadcast of the work in 1982.
It is to be hoped that the welcome revival of this work will lead to other performances both in London and elsewhere. However, the James Allen Community Orchestra, their conductor, Rupert Bond and Mark Bebbington are to be congratulated for providing us with the opportunity of hearing this most enjoyable work by Alan Bush again.