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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


AVAILABILITY

Riverrun Records, PO Box 30, Potton, Bedfordshire SG19 2XH
Telephone: 01767 260223

The CD can be bought Online at: www.rvrcd.co.uk
The disc can also be ordered direct by phone or post.

Robin WALKER (b.1953)
I Thirst – instrumental and chamber works
Dance/Still (1982)
Dances with Chant and Chorales (1986)
Mr Gilbert dines at the Modern Hindu Hotel (1994)
Invention (1994)
I Thirst (1994)
Halifax (1995)
At the Grave of William Baines (1999)
His Master’s Voice (2001)
Peter Lawson (piano), Jonathan Scott (organ), John Turner (recorder), Rex Lawson (pianola)
Camerata Ensemble String Quartet
The New Ensemble Royal Northern College of Music/Clark Rundell
Rec. 2002. DDD
RIVERRUN RECORDS RVRCD66 [65.03]


In an age when so much – too much – new music is hardly more than soulless note-spinning striving for effect, Robin Walker stands apart, a classicist at heart, who writes from the heart in a wholly contemporary idiom, at once distinctive and attractive; in short, he is that modern rara avis, a composer whose music leaves you wanting to hear more. This impeccably produced, performed and recorded disc presents a conspectus of his developing work over two decades, ever subject to experiment and expansion into new fields, ranging from Dance/Still, the chamber piece which first brought him to public notice, to the neatly titled His Master’s Voice, a 70th birthday tribute to his composition teacher, David Lumsdaine.

One could say that Walker is Robert Simpson’s natural successor in his command of large organic structure juxtaposing vitality with stasis in the true sense of both words. Like Roussel, following two study visits to India he has drawn inspiration, particularly rhythmically, from the culture of that continent, and overall one senses a French provenance (or as the composer himself puts it, a precession), matching the timeless strength of Varèse, Messiaen and, to my ears particularly, Koechlin. Remarkably Robin himself is not familiar with Koechlin, yet he aspires to the same fusion of energy and stillness; listen to the opening of the second part of Dance/Still – for a moment, it could almost be from Le livre de la jongle. This comes across again awesomely in the organ work, Dances with Chant and Chorales, filtered through the prism of childhood recollection as a York Minster chorister of the grandeur of the Minster organ’s Full Swell, and equally in the string quartet, I Thirst, with its clouds of natural harmonics.

A further organ piece, Invention, takes as its starting point a very different French idiom, that of the virtuoso tradition of Dupré et al, not to mention Walker’s first and much revered teacher at the Minster, Francis Jackson, whilst Halifax, written by contrast unusually and most effectively for the pianola, reveals an unexpected vein of Yorkshire humour beneath its celebration of a native heritage. Living as he now does just across the Pennines in Lancashire, it is no surprise that Walker has responded to another more recent virtuoso tradition, that established by the Manchester-based recorder player, John Turner, for whom he has written ten pieces; two of these, stunningly played, are included on this CD.

Readers of British Music volume 21 may recall Robin’s account of how he grew up on the very road in York in which William Baines had lived and died at the age of 23 some thirty-odd years before. The spiritual affinity between these two composers of different eras goes far deeper than that simple coincidence, and the extended piano work, At the Grave of William Baines, is a direct response to a pilgrimage made to the grave on the 100th anniversary of Baines’s birth. There is no superficial homage here replete with quotations – this is pure Robin Walker, albeit infused throughout with Baines’s spirit, and the emotion is intense, filled with frustration, and ultimately resignation, at the waste of creative instincts thwarted by ill health. It is played magnificently by Peter Lawson. David Fanning calls Walker’s half-hour symphonic poem The Stone Maker "one of the outstanding achievements in British music of the 1990s", and, objectively setting aside my own Bainesian associations, I cannot but think that the same applies to this piano work, at least as significant in the context of 1999 as was the impact of Baines’s own Paradise Gardens exactly eighty years previously.

Where next? There are hopes of a recording of Walker’s 40-part madrigal, recently broadcast by the Tallis Scholars on BBC Radio 3, and meanwhile the world of opera beckons.

Roger Carpenter



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