– By Gareth Watkins (Radio Collection Developer, Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision)
Recently Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision acquired a set of very special discs from violinist Vince Aspey. The discs not only give a glimpse into Vince’s and his father Vincent Aspey’s distinguished musical careers, they also capture some of the early moments of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra – back then known as the National Orchestra.
Six years before the National Orchestra’s formation in 1946, an orchestra had been established for the nation’s centennial celebrations. In this recording from 1940, the legendary British conductor Sir Thomas Beecham – passing through Auckland on his way to Sydney – introduces and then conducts the Centennial Festival Orchestra and Heddle Nash and Isobel Baillie in the garden scene from Faust.
It wasn’t until after the war that a permanent national orchestra was established. Andersen Tyrer was appointed conductor and Vincent Aspey orchestra leader. As noted on NZ History Aspey had never heard a major orchestra play, but his experience leading orchestras in Auckland, Sydney and Wellington made him an obvious choice for leader.
During those early orchestral rehearsals in 1946, Vincent Aspey’s son Vince recalls standing in the control room at the Waring Taylor Street studios watching his father perform. From one of those first rehearsals comes this recording of soloist Vincent Aspey and the National Orchestra.
In 2014 I visited Vince to pick up the donated discs. I asked him about this early recording of his father playing Kreisler’s Cadenza.
The first public performance of the National Orchestra was in the Wellington Town Hall in 1947 and included the works Carnival Overture (Dvorak), Symphony No.2 (Brahms), A Shropshire Lad orchestral rhapsody (Butterworth), Romanian Rhapsody No.1 (Enescu), Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde (Wagner) and Till Eulenspiegel (Richard Strauss).
Along with public performances the orchestra was engaged to record film scores. An example of this is Journey For Three – a dramatised documentary on immigration released theatrically in Britain.
This “absorbing story of three new settlers told against the background of New Zealand’s Southern Alps” features the National Orchestra with music composed by Douglas Lilburn.
Interestingly, last year Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision acquired a recording of the BBC Scottish Orchestra performing Overture: Aotearoa (1940) recorded on 26 September 1944 – possibly the earliest recording of an orchestral work by Douglas Lilburn (the work wasn’t performed in Aotearoa until 1959).
Over its 70 years, the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra has welcomed numerous international soloists. In 1972 British pianist Dame Moura Lympany (b. 18 August 1916) performed with the orchestra – playing Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.24 in C minor and Rachmaninov’s 3rd piano concerto in different concerts. In this radio interview from 1966 she recounts the advice she often gave to young pianists.
And for a fun finale in this 70th anniversary year of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, here’s a commercial from 1997 featuring the orchestra conducted by … Spot!
Children at a National Orchestra concert. Evening post (Newspaper. 1865-2002) : Photographic negatives and prints of the Evening Post newspaper. Ref: 114/363/03-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23199962
This post is part of the Audio Curios series. Radio Collection Developer Gareth Watkins regularly comes across interesting, unique, and sometimes downright puzzling bits of audio during his accessioning work. He’s going to share some of these audio treasures with you in the Audio Curios series, which will be posted here on the Gauge blog frequently.