Basil Cameron – The Quiet Maestro

0 of 5 stars

The Crown Diamonds – Overture
Lyric Suite*
Handel arr. Harty
Water Music – Suite
Zampa – Overture
Dances of Galánta
Capriccio espagnol, Op.34 #
William Tell – Ballet Music
Rosamunde – Ballet Music in B flat and G
Symphony No.2 in D, Op.43
Tapiola, Op.112

Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra *
London Philharmonic Orchestra
National Symphony Orchestra #
Basil Cameron

Recorded between 1943 and 1952

All selections on CD for first time

Only available from Audiosonic,
6 College Street, Gloucester,
GL1 2NE, England. £12.50


Phone: 01452 302280
Fax: 01452 302202

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: July 2002
CD No: BC 101 (2 CDs)
Duration: 2 hours 36 minutes

George Basil Hindenberg was born in Reading in 1884 to a German father and Scottish mother. A foreign name suited well at this time for securing engagements. Fanciful maybe – neither Lyndon Jenkins in his booklet note or dictionary entries quite clarify – but perhaps the First War made the conductor, now working in Torquay (and ambitiously mounting Stravinsky performances), take his mother’s maiden name. A wise career move! Basil Cameron, who as Hindenberg had studied in Germany and spent five years as an orchestral violinist in London, now went to the dizzy heights of Hastings and Harrogate (or so they don’t seem now in musical terms), and then on to the symphony orchestras of San Francisco and Seattle before returning permanently to England in time for the Second War to become Sir Henry Wood’s assistant at the Proms.

Wood admired Cameron greatly: “a practical and professional musician with a real grip over the orchestra”. Wood also considered Cameron to be a “shy and sensitive man, but his music is right”. Seemingly indefatigable, Cameron conducted Proms night after night – invariably these were long programmes – sharing each season with Sir Malcolm Sargent and covering a vast repertoire, from core to light, and he was no stranger to conducting premieres or leading such complexities as The Rite of Spring on the minimum of rehearsals. Cameron retired from the Proms at the age of 80 in 1964 and was to live another eleven years. It wasn’t solely the Proms for Cameron for he enjoyed international engagements and visited the recording studio. Some people thought this modest conductor to be dull. This handsome 2-CD issue shows such opinion to be wrong.

The “real grip over the orchestra” that Wood cites is demonstrable throughout these recordings, made for Columbia, Decca and HMV mostly with the London Philharmonic; the earliest is the Grieg from 1943, the latest the 1952 Schubert. The transfers, by Roger Beardsley, are excellent, exemplary in fact. Shellac surface noise is sympathetically reduced to leave the comfortable rumble of domestic reproduction of an earlier era; more importantly the music’s tones do not discolour or sound as if played underwater. One can simply listen to the orchestras as they were captured by the technology of the time, a little fuzzy on occasion, which is inconsequential given the performances.

As might be imagined from this brief sketch of Cameron’s credentials, all the music-making here is intrinsic and cumulatively satisfying. Shy he might have been but he obviously got orchestras to play for him with commitment and excellent ensemble; there’s no lack of engagement or combustibility, the music served whole without interference and with keen observation and identification. Within the British hierarchy of conductors, Cameron belongs in the Boult/Handley axis. He, like them, has his own way of doing things; the music comes first with all of them. The orchestras here certainly appear convinced; one can hear mutual trust and countless subtleties.

With the exception of various recorded examples of Cameron accompanying soloists – Arrau, Kogan, Haendel, Moiseiwitsch and others – I’m not sure that I’ve previously heard Cameron in his own right. What a splendid choice of music to do so. The overture to Zampa, which opens CD1, isn’t heard too often these days – a pity. Cameron moves it along with affection and ebullience. Attention to detail is keen as it is throughout these well-drilled but not literal performances, which include Rossini given with easy grace; gloriously ’old-fashioned’ Handel, time taken and a warm sound to savour the melodies (Hamilton Harty’s re-scoring assisting); lovingly moulded Grieg (the pre-Royal Liverpool Phil intimate and pliable in its response); and lively Rimsky and unindulged Schubert. Little phrasal lurches in the B flat ballet movement and an unconvincing ritard to close the one in G major of the Rosamunde music are slight in themselves but stand out because it’s unusual for Cameron to do anything that distorts the whole. If Zampa is rare now, the The Crown Diamonds has disappeared without trace, certainly as a concert opener. It’s nice! So too is the performance, Cameron bringing an ideal light touch to it – a real sense of style.

All this makes for good and instructive listening. Standing out though are the Kodály and two Sibelius pieces. The former is a fiery performance of Dances of Galánta given with superb solo clarinet playing and (perhaps surprisingly) Slavonic identification. The music is swung and dug into – no British straight-bat here.

Cameron knew Sibelius and had hoped to lead the UK première of his Eighth Symphony (composed then destroyed or not written at all … or to be found in a loft one day). Tapiola is restless rather than savage. There are more graphic and terrifying accounts available and ones more mysterious; Cameron opts for something more symphony than symphonic poem with attention to detail, rhythmic interplay and tempo relationships inextricably bounded by structure; thus the music turns in on itself and is released organically, and not without suspense. The symphony is scarcely less fine and enjoys similar attention to inner parts and direction. Only in the second movement did I wish Cameron would take a little more time and yield something more from the music. There’s no doubting the thrust of the reading, which is unforced and gripping.

This then is a highly successful release and a feather in the cap of private enterprise. These recordings are going to bring great pleasure in the years to come – Cameron’s thoughtful and discriminating conducting is here proven built to last. Hopefully his Dvořák Eighth Symphony and Grieg Peer Gynt can also be made available.

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