“I am not beginning this programme (about Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto) talking about a 12-note-row, but about the death of a girl”. Thus started one of Antony Hopkins’ many Talking about Music programmes. No doubt he wound up many a more academically-minded school music-master in the process, but of course he was right-it was the picture of the music that mattered to Antony Hopkins more than what mere technical analysis could convey. It was this individual and imaginative approach which made Talking About Music appeal to so many listeners; but this was only a small part of Antony Hopkins’ life, which embraced the theatre, radio drama and documentary and musical education in so many forms.
In celebration of such a multi-faceted life, Divine Arts has produced this superb 2-CD tribute to Antony Hopkins for his 90 th birthday. CD 1 is largely given over to Antony’s serious works: his Sonata for Viola and Piano of 1945. I think this to be the finest piece on the first disc- striking and dramatic in its mood and thematically well worked and developed, with a beautiful slow second movement (Ground). It was written for Jean Stewart, (a friend of Vaughan Williams who had also had a sonata written for her by Julius Harrison). Hopkins wrote three Piano Sonatas, of which only 1 and 3 were published (by Chester’s) and we hear no.3 complete, played by Philip Fowke, and the Rondo from Sonata no.2 played by Michael Hampton. In both works one can hear echoes of Michael Tippett (in the Rondo) and Hindemith in Sonata 3. More individual, perhaps is Hopkins ‘Partita’ for solo violin, played by Paul Barritt and the disc ends with some light and humorous French Folksongs for soprano, recorder and piano, sung by Lesley-Jane Rogers, with John Turner(recorder) and Janet Simpson at the piano.
CD 2 features Eight Tributes to Antony Hopkins (2011) which is a group of short pieces by Andrew Plant, David Matthews, David Dubery, Anthony Gilbert, Gordon Crosse, David Ellis, Joseph Phibbs and Elis Pehkonen, all for recorder, with some also including soprano and piano. Songs were such a substantial part of Antony Hopkins’ creative life and we have a sizeable selection here, mostly sung by Lesley-Jane Rogers, but James Gilchrist contributes 4 songs to the Cantata ‘A Humble song to the Birds’ of 1945.
There are additional bonuses: Antony himself reads three of his own poems: Good Luck Jack Nicklaus is a spoof on Good King Wenceslas and golfing; String Quartet is amusing for its description of the relationship between players in a long standing ensemble. But the prize must go to Charlie’s Revenge, the story of the embittered front-desk principal cello and his practical joke on an unfortunate contralto – ladies had better watch their dress-trains in future! A real surprise ,however are excerpts from the 1953 recording of Three’s Company, and two excerpts from the 1960 recording of Johnny the priest. During the late 1970’s I played the piano for several performances of Three’s Company, and so to hear the interview scene(“Take a letter, Miss Honey” ) brought back instant memories! Also beautifully sung are the two excerpts from the 1960 recording of Johnny the Priest. Surely it is time to see again modern productions of so many of these more intimate opera works which enjoyed such a vogue in the 1950’s and 60’s.
This 2-CD tribute is a wonderful celebration of Antony Hopkins’s life and music. Special thanks must go to John Turner for masterminding the project, and to 300 individuals and organisations who are listed as subscribers(magnifying glass useful here!). This shows the great range of admiration for such an accomplished all-round musical personality- perhaps with that lingering thought that he was not properly treated by the BBC all those years ago. But it is Hopkins’ music which is being celebrated here and which deserves to be heard more frequently in the concert hall. As Antony himself said in an interview in 1992: “If there’s hope for Parry now, maybe there’s hope for the Hopkins sonatas!”