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  Founder: Len Mullenger
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David BEDFORD (b.1937)
Praeludium (1990)
Sun Paints Rainbows on the Vast Waves (1982)
Canons and Cadenzas (1996)
Sea and Sky and Golden Hill (1985)
Ronde for Isolde (1985)
Royal Northern College of Music Wind Orchestra/Clark Rundell
Recorded at RNCM Concert Hall, Manchester, Autumn 1997 DDD
DOYEN DOY CD 082 [58:40]


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Anyone who is familiar with David Bedford only through his early work (I’m thinking of such pieces as Star Clusters, Nebulae and Places in Devon and several of the other celestial inspired works of the sixties and seventies) would, I suspect, be hard pressed to recognise the music on this disc as being by the same composer. In reality however, it is no great surprise that Bedford’s music underwent a gradual change during the late seventies and early eighties. After early studies with Lennox Berkeley and Luigi Nono his initial immersion in the world of the avant-garde always ran parallel with his involvement in popular music, working regularly with such figures as Mike Oldfield and also undertaking arrangements for a wide range of mass market artists.

The compositional style that was to emerge from this post avant-garde world was strongly melodic, unashamedly tonal and not uninfluenced by the popular music that had always been part of his musical persona. A good example can be found in the Symphony No. 1 of 1985 (NMC D049). The Symphony is contemporaneous with several of the wind band pieces on this disc and is not too distant from them, both melodically and in the use of certain rhythmic devices that crop up regularly in his work.

Sun Paints Rainbows on the Vast Waves was the first of a number of wind band pieces that was to create something of a reputation for Bedford as fresh interest began to grow in symphonic wind bands. This was largely as a result of the work of Timothy Reynish and Clark Rundell at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester. The work takes its title from the notebook of Coleridge when he was writing The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, "the Sea was then very much tossed, and the Wind carrying off the Tops of the Waves made a kind of Rain, in which the rays of the Sun, painted the Colours of the Rainbows". Bedford creates what amounts to a tone poem, based largely on the eight chords heard at the outset. As in much of Bedford’s music considerable use is made of repeated ostinato-like rhythmic figurations that occur regularly and are a stylistic remnant of his avant-garde days. The initial eight chords are subjected to a range of transformations and metamorphoses, heard most obviously in the middle section where they are presented in a series of static blocks set against percussion.

The work still remains the freshest of the five pieces heard here, being melodically appealing, skilfully and imaginatively scored and challenging yet rewarding for the players, a fact that is clearly communicated by The Royal Northern students. The disappointment is that what follows is much of the same. The remaining works sharing closely related melodic material and often predictably familiar rhythmic devices. Praeludium is a brief celebratory concert opener, originally written in the run up to the unsuccessful Manchester bid for the 1996 Olympics. Canons and Cadenzas features some clever rhythmic interplay and is once again attractively scored with opportunities for individual players to shine before its unexpectedly understated ending. Sea and Sky and Golden Hill is perhaps the closest work to Sun Paints Rainbows in its visual associations. The John Adams-like rhythmic patterns of the opening eventually build to a final climax noticeably similar to that of the third movement of the Symphony No. 1 written in the same year, only to subside to a gently oscillating conclusion. The exception amongst these pieces is Ronde for Isolde, the only work written for junior or amateur forces. It comprises a set of variations on the well known "Ronde" by Tielman Susato, superimposed in the slow central section with a series of chords heard during the second act of Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde.

Taken in isolation, each of these pieces has its appeal yet there is a feeling that Bedford is rather over working the same basic material. The result is a disc to dip into rather than to take on board in one dose. The performances by The Royal Northern College of Music Wind Orchestra are both vivid and strongly committed.

Christopher Thomas

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