Hidden Treasures

Are there neglected masterpieces? Or is the idea just a myth, asks Iain Burnside

A few months back I was having a drink with a violinist mate of mine, a section leader in a leading London orchestra. When it comes to programme planning, he has seen it all. ‘Take it from me,’ he moaned into his beer, ‘there is no such thing as a neglected masterpiece.’

I am not so sure. Our anniversary season is now going great guns and my desk is covered with CDs of Purcell, his predecessors and his successors. And as so often when I’ve doing my homework for Sunday mornings it’s the pieces I don’t know that give me the most pleasure. Until yesterday I’d never heard the six suites that make up Matthew Locke’s Consort of Fower Parts.

Now they play and replay obsessively next to me, the archaic sound of a viol consort masking Locke’s deceptively experimental flights of fancy. I even like the spelling, together with Locke’s touching comment over one last movement: ‘conclude thus’.

Once Purcell is done and dusted, Radio 3’s other birthday boys lie in wait: Handel, Haydn and Mendelssohn. And again treasures lurk in the fringes. Wearing my pianist’s hat, I’ve been asked to pick a Haydn piano trio for a summer festival. What a job! What a license to abandon all other work! For anyone who cares about Haydn, playing though his piano trios is a guiltily addictive pleasure. The music is so full of surprises, of wit, of exploration. It’s impossible not to turn the next page, and equally impossible to resist the question, why don’t we hear them more often?

But then Haydn piano trios fall into that strange category where for some reason quality and profusion become off-putting. I’m thinking of Bach Cantatas, Chopin Mazurkas, Schubert songs. If there were significantly fewer of them would we love them more? The pile of thick Haydn scores is building up by the piano stool. Time to go back to that C major Trio and just check if it’s as wonderful as I remembered. It is. There are indeed neglected masterpieces. Conclude thus.

This article is taken from the May issue of BBC Music Magazine

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