CLASSICAL & OPERA
Saturday 13 September 1997
The late Dr Eric Fenby, who died earlier this year at the age of 90, held an unusual place in 20th- century musical history. Himself a composer, performer and teacher, all three of those activities are subsumed by what happened in Fenby's life, and which would inform the remaining six decades of it, during the years 1928-1934. In that time the young Fenby assisted the by then blind and paralysed Frederick Delius in completing a number of important late works. The story of how the impressionable Fenby heard a brief snatch of Delius's music on the radio and felt it his mission to travel to Grez-sur-Loing and offer his services as amanuensis has been told many times, maybe nowhere more poignantly than in Ken Russell's Omnibus film A Song of Summer.
Yet, perhaps just as fascinating were Fenby's subsequent lifelong endeavours to uphold the Delius legacy. "Eric never tired in talking about Delius," comments cellist Julian Lloyd Webber, who will be playing the Cello Sonata in Tuesday's recital. "He saw his function as promoter of and spokesman for Delius's work in terms of an ongoing commitment to the man he so admired both as a composer and a friend. Also, if one considers the sheer amount of dedicated effort which Fenby himself put in to finalising some of those late scores, he was always exceptionally modest about that vital role."
Thanks to Fenby, the great tradition of Delius interpretation continues. The Cello Sonata was aired to the dying Delius with Fenby at the piano; in the Wigmore Hall, Lloyd Webber will perform the Sonata using the same instrument played at that performance. "It's an intense, very personal and exceptionally moving piece," the cellist comments. "An unbroken arc of invention in which I virtually never stop playing for some 16 minutes. To me, there is something so expressive about Delius's music. One either loves it or hates it. And for those who love it, a considerable part of that affection comes directly from the inspiration and life force that was Eric Fenby."
EYE ON THE NEW
Two exquisite and rarely heard chamber operas by Marc-Antoine Charpentier - Les Plaisirs de Versailles and La Descente D'orphee aux Enfers - open William Christie and his Les Arts Florissants' lavish three-evening examination of the Golden Age of Baroque theatre music and dance. Barbican Hall, London (0171-638 8891) 18 Sept, 7.30pm
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