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Graham WATERHOUSE (b. 1962)
Chieftain’s Salute Op.34a (2001)a
Sinfonietta Op.54 (2002)
Mouvements d’Harmonie Op.29 (1991)
Celtic Voices Op.36/1 (1996)
Hymnus Op.47 (1998)
Hale Bopp Op.36/2 (1997)b
Jig, Air and Reel Op.9 (1983)
Graham Waller (Great Highland Bagpipe)a; Timothy Funnel (treble)b; Endymion Ensemble
English Chamber Orchestra/Yaron Traub
Recorded: July 2002 (Chieftain’s Salute) and November 2002
MERIDIAN CDE 84510 [71:14]

Graham Waterhouse was born in London. He studied composition with Hugh Wood and Robin Holloway, and cello with Maria Kliegel. He now lives a double life as composer and performing cellist. His present output includes a Cello Concerto and a good deal of chamber music. What we have here is a selection of works for string orchestra and for wind ensemble.

The early Jig, Air and Reel Op.9 is based on sketches dating back to university days, but fully worked-out fifteen years later (in 1997). Each of the three movements is based on a traditional folk song: Sir Roger de Coverley (England), Star of the County Down (Ireland) and Devil among the Tailors (Scotland), the whole amounting to a superbly crafted and delightful miniature of the kind that should find its place in any forthcoming British String Miniatures release (ASV and/or Naxos should consider it). Incidentally, will I be the only one to feel that the Irish tune Star of the county Down sounds like a variant of Dives and Lazarus? Celtic Voices Op.36/1 is another such work overtly alluding to British or Scottish folk music, though without quoting any folksong. Its companion piece Hale Bopp Op.36/2 sits between the lighter and the more serious side of Waterhouse’s output. It opens with wide-spaced chords suggesting some other-worldly atmosphere and ends with a treble voice singing How brightly shines the Morning Star, accompanied by a string quartet. Though shorter and, on the whole, less astringent, this lovely piece may compared to Georges Lentz’s Caeli enarrant...III (available on Naxos 8.557019, reviewed here some time ago).

On the other hand, Chieftain’s Salute Op.34a and Sinfonietta Op.54 are more serious works. The string writing is more astringent often bringing Bartók to mind. The Sinfonietta is a substantial work in four concise movements often displaying considerable energy and considerable muscular string writing (particularly so in the first and fourth movements). The second movement Adagio ma non troppo reminded me of parts of Grace Williams’ beautiful Sea Sketches. The short Scherzo, however, is more overtly folk-inflected, and pays tribute to folk fiddle music. Waterhouse’s Sinfonietta belongs to the great tradition of British string music, and does not pale when compared to similar works by Britten, Tippett or Rawsthorne. Chieftain’s Salute Op.34a, scored for Great Highland Pipe and strings, is – make no mistake – a deeply serious work, miles away from the folksy romp one might have expected. The musical idiom is as astringent as in the Sinfonietta, and the Highland Bagpipe is treated with much respect. It is not used merely for added instrumental colour, as was the case in Maxwell Davies’ delightfully funny Orkney Wedding with Sunrise. It is a real partner in this virile, rousing piece of music, which I enjoyed enormously.

Waterhouse’s father was the bassoonist William Waterhouse; the sound-world of the wind instrument holds no secret whatsoever for him. Mouvements d’Harmonie Op.29 for wind nonet was first performed on the occasion of the 60th birthday concert of the composer’s father. It is a fairly straightforward ABA structure cast in a rather more austere idiom than the works for strings, but nevertheless quite attractive. Hymnus Op.49 for 13 winds was originally conceived for church use on the Sunday following All Souls’ Day. The music is – appropriately so, I think – generally more homophonic, and is mostly based on a hymn-like theme restated three times in the course of the piece. The three restatements are interspersed with two short interludes, the second of which (a rhythmic figure of staccato semiquavers) combines with the chorale, providing a scurrying accompaniment to the concluding grand restatement of the chorale. The piece ends with a short restatement of the opening material, viz. some austere chords, at times reminiscent of Stravinsky’s Symphonies pour instruments à vent.

All these pieces are superbly played by all concerned, and this portrait provides the best possible introduction to Graham Waterhouse’s well-written and attractive music. This is music that can be delightfully simple as well as rather more demanding. It definitely repays repeated hearings.

Incidentally, this is the second disc devoted to Waterhouse’s music (hence the figure 2 on the front cover). Portrait 1 devoted to some of Waterhouse’s chamber works was released a couple of years ago, and will be reviewed shortly.

Hubert Culot

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