Derek Hammond-Stroud: Acclaimed baritone

 

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The Independent Online

The baritone Derek Hammond-Stroud was remarkably versatile, encompassing lieder and opera from Gilbert and Sullivan to Wagner and Richard Strauss.

His name is inextricably associated with the English National Opera, from its days at Sadler's Wells, the move to the London Coliseum, and the "English Ring" cycles under Reginald Goodall, in which he sang the role of Alberich.

He was born in London and, after attending the Salvatorian College at Harrow Weald, he studied at the Trinity College of Music and later in Munich and Vienna with Elena Gerhardt and Gerhard Hüsch, and also with Roy Henderson in London. In 1954 he won first prize in the London Music Festival and second prize in the Fourth International Vocal Competition at 's-Hertogenbosch in 1957.

Hammond-Stroud was a lieder singer with a remarkable ability to articulate the meaning and the mood of the text with clarity and feeling, the more effectively for being somewhat understated. A performance of Die Winterreise ("the ultimate test of a male lieder singer's art") at the Wigmore Hall in 1979 is still remembered by many who were there. Fortunately it was recorded and belatedly issued on CD in 2002. On this occasion the pianist was Geoffrey Parsons; he also worked with, among others, Gerald Moore – at whose final "Winter Journey" before retirement in 1966 he sang – Erik Werba, Nina Walker and Josephine Lee.

Also remembered in recital were performances of Fauré's La bonne chanson, Britten's William Blake songs (not quite his cup of tea, it was felt), Pfitzner's Eichendorff settings and Brahms's Die schöne Magalone. He also sang Bach and Handel, including Christus in the St John Passion. He was a warmly avuncular and often magical soloist in Vernon Handley's 1976 recording of Elgar's The Starlight Express and served as an adjudicator for the Kathleen Ferrier Awards in 1974.

But it was in opera that he was most widely known. After early appearances with the Chelsea Opera Group, the New Opera Company and at the St Pancras Festival – where he continued to perform for several years, including the first British performance of Rossini's La Pietra del Paragone in 1963 – he was at Glyndebourne from 1959 and joined the Sadler's Wells company in 1961. He tended at first to take the comic roles but his characterisations were much admired. As Chalcas in La belle Hélène he was, in the view of Joan Chissell, "the living personification of every wily Greek in history". His Dr Bartolo (The Barber of Seville) was, for Alan Blyth, "a masterpiece of comic observation".

Wagner flourished under Reginald Goodall at Sadler's Wells and later at the Coliseum, culminating in performances of Wagner's entire "Ring" cycle in English. But The Mastersingers came first, in 1968, with Hammond-Stroud as Beckmesser. Goodall's biographer John Lucas records that Hammond-Stroud "became aware that Goodall identified himself closely with the frustration and anguish of the Nuremberg town clerk who is treated with ridicule by his fellow citizens. For Goodall, Beckmesser was a tragic, rather than a comic character" and this was reflected in Hammond-Stroud's approach, which became "an impersonation of remarkable subtlety and virtuosity".

By contrast he was the Lord Chancellor in Iolanthe, Jack Point in The Yeoman of the Guard, Koko in The Mikado and, most memorably (for me), Reginald Bunthorne – the "Fleshly Poet" – in John Cox's production of Patience, with excellent casts and breathtaking sets and costumes by John Stoddart.

His Faninal (Rosenkavalier) at Covent Garden was much admired, and he was for many the star of the 1972 revival of Madame Butterfly at the Coliseum. He also sang Papageno, Rigoletto, Kecal (The Bartered Bride), Tonio (Pagliacci), Sacristan (Tosca), Mellitone (The Force of Destiny), Cecil (Gloriana), and at festivals and opera houses throughout the world. He appeared often at the Proms and broadcast frequently on radio and television, including the television premiere of Walton's The Bear and Façade.

He conducted masterclasses and taught privately, and was professor for singing at the Royal Academy of Music from 1974-90. He was appointed OBE in 1987. The affection and esteem in which he was held by professional colleagues, as well as by audiences, was considerable, if the number and quality of signed photographs of international musical legends of the 20th century with whom he worked, on display at his home, is any indication.

Derek Hammond-Stroud, baritone: born London 10 January 1926; died Roden, Shropshire 14 May 2012.

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