Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Richard Adeney
Brimstone Press
(PO Box 114, Shaftsbury SP7 8XN)
£12.50, p.222

If the performance is routine, perhaps with a duff conductor, sometimes a solo by one of the players will lift things onto another plane, the orchestra suddenly slips from the routine to the sublime, the spirits soar, life climbs up a notch.

In World War 2 I worked in a humble capacity for the London Philharmonic Orchestra and went to many of their concerts in and around London. There were two players in the LPO at that time who regularly were able to lift the orchestra up by its boot straps and lodge us in heaven, maybe for the rest of the evening. One was the first trumpeter, Malcolm Arnold, before he became known as a composer; the other was the first flute, Richard Adeney. They were both in their twenties, replacing older men who had gone off to fight.

Richard was handsome, an introvert, unlike Malcolm who was quite good to look at, but as extrovert as it is possible to be. But the sound Adeney made, the nuances he effected, the quality of his musicianship was magical; he could put a spell on us all in the audience.

Richard played a decade with the LPO, became freelance for a decade, playing often with the Melos Ensamble. His recording with that group of the Debussy Sonata for harp, flute and viola is still deeply satisfying – with two great players: Cecil Aronowitz and the harpist Osian Ellis. Then came the years with the English Chamber Orchestra, complete Mozart Piano Concerto, first with Daniel Barenboim and later with Murray Perania. In between came years directed by Benjamin Britten; operas, concerts and without a conductor, the three church parables where the players dressed as monks. Came his sixties and Richard packed up his flutes and sold them, exchanging them for photography; he had exhibitions and some of his work is seen in this book. Coming up to 80 he disposed of his cameras. He looks now in very good shape so at dinner the other day asked him to what he attributed his good health. Over the soup he answered “Sex four times a week” but over the coffee he said “John, I exaggerated – twice a week”.

In the book Richard recalls that in his teens he decided that “I wanted three things from life:

first: that I would become the best flute player in the world.
second: to have a huge amount of sex.
third: to make some sense of the mysterious and confusing world.”

Well, his book shows that he has done well on all counts. Certainly as a chamber music and orchestral player he was the tops. And he hasn’t done too badly in the other categories. He writes well and entertainingly, never hesitating to call a spade a bloody shovel. But better than his spicy stories and cuss words, he gives a better idea than I’ve come across anywhere else of what it feels like to play in an orchestra. He doesn’t quite tell us what it is like to be a homosexual but he gets near. The insight and stories about the orchestra and its conductors are enthralling. Strong likes and dislikes, some expected (Sargent), some unexpected (Abbado).

Nobody who has lived thought the musical scene of today and yesterday should miss this fascinating book. R.A. the man is quiet, even a little shut in, self-effacing. But his book comes at you boldly colourful and thought provoking.

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