Pauline Brockless, who has died aged 85, was a soprano who enjoyed success in the 1950s, notably in the traditional performances of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony at the penultimate night of the Proms under Malcolm Sargent on three occasions; she was also renowned for her appearances in the Royal Choral Society’s Good Friday performances of Handel’s Messiah.
The Florence Nightingale Centenary Concert at the Royal Albert Hall in June 1954 in the presence of the Princess Royal was another major event in which she took part. The concert, with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Colin Ratcliffe, commemorated the pioneering nurse’s journey to the Crimea with a group of volunteers to tend to British war casualties; afterwards one critic commented favourably on Pauline Brockless’s “pretty voice”.
In 1958 she sang in the memorable recording of Bach’s St Matthew Passion conducted by Vaughan Williams at Leith Hill Festival six months before his death. Four years ago, and as one of the last surviving soloists from that occasion, she returned to Leith Hill – lively of spirit but wheelchair bound – to hear once more Bach’s great work, this time conducted by Brian Kay.
There were also appearances with her brother, the countertenor Brian Brockless who died in 1995, at venues such as the Wigmore Hall and the Savoy Chapel. These ranged from performances of Brian’s setting of the Missa Brevis to works by Purcell and Handel accompanied by harpsichord and viola da gamba, the latter leading led one critic to remark in 1959 that “her cool purity of tone was admirable in this early music”.
By the 1960s, however, illness was slowly but inexorably bringing down the curtain on her singing career and for almost 50 years Pauline Brockless required regular care, first from her ageing parents and then in a nursing home.
Pauline Dorothy Brockless was born in Muswell Hill, north London, on May 4 1929, the youngest of three children. Her father Gilbert had worked for Lloyds of London and was a keen amateur baritone and horn player, while her mother Dorothy was an amateur pianist.
Young Pauline sang in the choir of Christ Church, Crouch End, then studied at Hornsey College of Art and the Royal College of Music before completing her singing diploma at the Royal Academy of Music. She also took lessons in Paris with Hugues Cuénod, a pupil of Fauré, who gave her an excellent grounding in French art song and pronunciation.
Her big break came when her uncle, George Brockless, director of music at Central Hall, Westminster, asked her to step in at short notice for a performance of Messiah when the original soloist fell ill. In the audience was Emmie Tillett, a leading concert agent, who signed her up, arranging appearances with conductors such as Antal Doráti, Reginald Jacques and David Willcocks in works such as Handel’s Solomon, Berlioz’s The Damnation of Faust and Bach’s St John Passion, in which she often sang with her brother.
She appeared in recital with Julian Bream, was a guest soloist with choral societies around the country and performed in several radio plays. She also appears on Sargent’s 1955 recording of Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream for HMV.
For a number of years Pauline Brockless was a visiting lecturer at Cambridge School of Art, putting her early training to good use by producing paintings in the cubist style and some fine sculptures, including a bust of Sargent.
There were still occasional concert appearances including, in 1967, performances of Bach’s St John Passion at the Queen Elizabeth Hall under James Gaddarn, in which Roger Norrington was the tenor, and Haydn’s Nelson Mass, conducted by her brother at the Festival Hall to celebrate the granting of a royal charter to the University of Surrey.
Pauline Brockless was unmarried.
Courtesy : The Telegraph