SIR LANDON RONALD

1873-1938

The composer Elgar dedicated his symphonic study Falstaff to Sir Landon, that busy “house” conductor at His Master’s Voice, but Sir Landon confessed to his young colleague John Barbirolli: “Never could make head or tail of that piece, dear boy.” Falstaff-comfortable or not, Sir Landon was a pillar of English musical – and especially gramophonic – life, particularly prized by the violinist Fritz Kreisler and many others as a concerto collaborator. With Alfred Cortot in the Schumann concerto the tone of the collaboration is absolutely perfect, intimacy, playfulness and majesty shared in equal parts by pianist and conductor.

I find delightful Sir Landon’s Bruno Walterism when in the first movement he conjures an echo effect in the rolling figure in the violins – this after the opening tutti and the piano’s answer – late in bar 19 then 21. Instead of Schumann’s all-purpose piano Ronald asks his violins for something like prima mezzoforte, dopo piano. Also inventive is the slow border tempo adopted for the pomp and circumstance of the first eight measures of the allegro vivace finale. Then in his partnership with Wilhelm Backhaus in Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto the measured 4/4 of the slow movement is given a hymn-like quality, quite ravishing indeed — Sir Landon’s mind is in the choir loft. In the second theme of the finale, dolce and curling, Backhaus and Ronald become co-conspirators in a delicious linger.

Sir Landon on his own presided over HMV’s first electrical recording of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, a mellow, robust performance English as steak and kidney pie. We should bow in the opening movement  before a coronational-then-ominous second subject. The slow movement is songful and confiding, and we’ll overlook here and there an excess of Edwardian (Georgian?) portamento.