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The Lebrecht Weekly


Visit every week to read Norman Lebrecht's latest column. [Index]

The English interpreter

By Norman Lebrecht / November 26, 2008

The shocking death of the irrepressible Richard Hickox, who died this weekend at 60 in the throes of a recording session, has silenced one of the most entrepreneurial podium characters. A self-starter from the age of three when he took the organ seat while his vicar father preached in Stokenchurch, Buckinghamshire, Hickox founded his own orchestra after coming down from Cambridge and was among the first to canvass City of London financial support while directing the LSO Chorus.

The range of his involvements extended from a festival at the tip of Cornwall to the Sydney Opera House, where he was music director since 2005, and it was typical of the manís hunger for music that he should have been recording a Holst rarity in Wales this weekend just ahead of the dress rehearsal for Vaughan Williamsí Rider to the Sea at English National Opera (the show will go on tomorrow under ENOís music director, Ed Gardiner).

His 300 recordings, 280 of them with the Chandos label, ranked him among the ten most prolific conductors on record. If his style lacked the last refinements of elegance and mystique there was no faulting Hickox on passion or detail. His advocacy of English music, in particular, was second to none. He was the first to perform the complete Vaughan Williams symphonies 15 years ago, and his recent London cycle with the Philharmonia was a huge success.

On record, his account of the original 1913 version of the London Symphony is in a class of its own. There is a terrific Carmina Burana with the LSO, as well as the complete choral works of Herbert Howells and a reverential Mendelssohn Elijah that show his feel for Anglican tradition. But it is a Catholic, Edmund Rubbra, whom Hickox espoused more convincingly than any modern interpreter. In the hands of Richard Hickox, the reticent Rubbra began to sound like a full English Bruckner.

Essential Hickox:

Vaughan Williams London Symphony (Chandos, LSO)

Handel Alcina (EMI, with Arleen Auger)

Rubbra 9th symphony (Chandos, BBC Nat. Chorus and Orch. Of Wales)

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Visit every week to read Norman Lebrecht's latest column. [Index]



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