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Jigs, Airs and Reels, Music for recorder and string quartet
Malcolm ARNOLD Fantasy op.140 (1991);
Philip COWLIN Concertino (2003);
Edward GREGSON Romance (1964/2003);
William Lewarne HARRIS Quintet (2002);
John JEFFREYS Prelude and Jig for John Turner (2000/01);
Franz REIZENSTEIN Partita for recorder and string trio (1939/53);
Ernest TOMLINSON Chadkirk Idyll (2002/03);
John VEALE Triptych (2003);
Robin WALKER Dances from "The Bells of Blue Island" for recorder, violin and cello.
John Turner (recorder), Camerata Ensemble
Rec. 2003

Fantasising, Chamber Music from Wales:

Ian PARROTT Fantasising on a Welsh Tune for recorder, oboe, bassoon and piano (1993/2002); Rondo Giocoso for bassoon and piano (1998); Autumn Landscape for oboe and piano (1983); Devil’s Bridge Jaunt for bassoon and piano (1974/2004); Portraits for recorder and piano (1999);
Peter CROSSLEY-HOLLAND Andante for bassoon and piano (1934);
Alun HODDINOTT Lizard: Variants op.166 no.2 for solo recorder (1998);
Jeffrey LEWIS Risoluto for recorder, oboe, bassoon and piano (2004);
William MATHIAS Concertino op.65 for recorder, oboe, bassoon and harpsichord (1974).
John Turner (recorder), Richard Simpson (oboe), Graham Salvage (bassoon), Janet Simpson (piano and harpsichord)
Rec. 2004
CAMPION CAMEO 2038 [64.50]

In a more enlightened musical culture these two discs would rank as ‘easy listening’. This is not to say the type of hybrid classical quasi-Muzak which passes for such on many major labels; even less any connotation of ‘crossover’, that strange term which tends to emphasise the very divide it seeks to bridge. On the contrary, belying popular preconceptions about contemporary chamber music, the listening is easy simply because this is music that is immediately approachable, a delight to the ear which leaves one looking forward to hearing it again.

The key to this is twofold. There are lyrical and deeply emotional pieces to be found here – Ernest Tomlinson’s evocative Chadkirk Idyll and Peter Crossley-Holland’s characteristically gentle Andante dating from 1934 for example, or the anguished and intense Risoluto written specially for this Welsh collection by Jeffrey Lewis. But running like a thread through both discs is an impish sense of light-heartedness, wholly appropriate to jigs and reels, and, dare I say, as an Englishman living in Wales, to the Welsh character too! John Veale says of the final spoof valse in his Triptych that it is intended to be "fun for the players, fun for the audience – and … even fun for an obsessional creative agoniser to write". That could apply to much else on these records as well, from the catchy Bourrée in Franz Reizenstein’s Partita (the only work included, I believe, that is not a première recording – played by Ross Winters it also appears on the BMS Dolmetsch Legacy CD), which served as a domestic signature tune for the Reizenstein household, to the frenetic stop-start finale of Philip Cowlin’s Concertino, irresistibly conjuring up the spirit of Till Eulenspiegel. As for Ian Parrott’s evocation of the Vale of Rheidol narrow gauge railway, Devil’s Bridge Jaunt, ideally suited to its new format for bassoon and piano, the title says it all, complete with a bonus joke which I will not spoil here.

Beyond all the good humour an even more significant thread runs through these discs. It is no mere coincidence that both John Jeffreys and John Veale, having embarked on prolific and successful careers, should run into a creative block in the late 1960s and 1970s - I know at least two other composers who similarly felt sidelined by an antipathetic musical establishment which was drifting rudderless into a cultural void (thereby incidentally creating the sterile musical climate which ultimately helped to prompt the foundation of the British Music Society) – but inspiration revived, and the catalyst was this same thread linking the music on these discs. To fall back on a much maligned phrase, this trend represents a return to basics or perhaps, more accurately, roots, which by tapping into the rich legacy of folk music without in any way compromising modernity or sophistication is beginning in its own way to erode that artificial divide between popular and more serious music-making that once never really existed, something quite alien to the market-driven concept of crossover and, not for the first time, a situation where artistic and political objectives (probably irreconcilable anyway) seem to be moving in opposite directions.

In this John Turner has played a pivotal role by commissioning or simply inspiring, both through his virtuosity and in expanding the boundaries of recorder technique, such a wealth of new music for what in general perception remains an essentially humble solo instrument. That virtuosity, as always, is to be found here in abundance – not least in the Jeffreys Prelude and Jig (the latter, as the sleeve note says, a real ‘leaping dance’), in the cadenza which lights up Edward Gregson’s ruminative and pastoral Romance, in the solo tour de force of Alun Hoddinott’s Lizard Variants, and in the second and fifth movements of Malcolm Arnold’s Fantasy.

As well documented of late, Sir Malcolm, the undisputed master of musical humour (what seat of academe ever boasted a better school song than St. Trinian’s?) is another to have suffered and conquered a creative block, albeit for different and complex personal reasons. The Fantasy is a product of the period of recovery alternating over five movements (during which the soloist plays sopranino, treble, descant and tenor instruments) between resigned but reposed nostalgia - two movements are marked mesto – and infectious high spirits, especially the cheeky scherzo second movement, which is vintage Arnold and the ideal encore piece for any recorderist equal to its considerable demands.

The centrepiece of Fantasising is the Concertino of William Mathias, written for Carl Dolmetsch and scored for the unusual combination of recorder, oboe, bassoon and harpsichord, strong on contrapuntal and fugal interplay and, in the words of the composer, "evoking a past much more distant than the Renaissance", but the major part of this disc is given over to his teacher, Ian Parrott, whose Fantasising on a Welsh Tune gives the disc its title. The tune in question is Dygan Caersws, and so the piece neatly takes it cue from Caersws, still a station on the line to Aberystwyth, to trace what the composer calls "a musical railway journey in mid-Wales", taking in en route a succession of artistic associations, including among others Peter Warlock’s home at Cefn Bryntalch, Llanbrynmair, the family home of the pioneering Welsh woman composer, Morfydd Llwyn Owen, and Aberystwyth itself, where Ian was Gregynog Professor of Music for so many years (the town being as well the departure point for that jaunt to Devil’s Bridge).

Portraits is a set of variations but without the mischievous enigma which might have been anticipated from such a distinguished Elgarian. Rather, with tongue still characteristically in cheek the composer suggests the work may show what his "friends pictured within" – Jack Moeran, Gerald Finzi, Leonard James, David Cox and William Mathias – would have done with the theme "if, in Elgar’s immortal words, ‘they were asses enough’", but this does not mask a subtle and moving tribute to the artistic impression made upon him by each of them.

Celtic folk elements make a substantial contribution to the other two works in Jigs, Airs and Reels. In the case of William Lewarne Harris it is his sea-girt Cornish antecedents which colour his impressive Quintet, and there is a wonderful moment in the fourth movement, Notre Dame des Naufragés, when a merest snatch of Breton folk-tune is glimpsed through the mists so fleetingly that you wonder if your really heard it at all or just imagined it. Robin Walker’s chamber opera, The Bells of Blue Island, deals with the fulfilment of dreams on a spiritual isle across the sea. I-Brasil sits tantalizingly on the horizon here, and it is surely significant in the context of the creative trend these discs illustrate that the youngest composer by far among those represented should draw inspiration from, as he puts it, "the strength of folk-art, and its roots in primal instinct and oneness with Nature". The folk-art in question is that of India and Buddhist rituals as well as England, and it infuses these dances, which were originally interludes between the scenes of the opera. Framed by the Irish folk-song She moved through the Fair, they are all fast in tempo yet at the same time imbued with that feeling of stasis and peaceful repose, which is so striking a hallmark of Robin’s style: as in The Hymn of Jesus, "Divine Grace is dancing" and "ye who dance not, know not what we are knowing…."

Performances throughout are impeccable. If really pressed to find cause for disappointment, I could only regret that no opportunity presented itself on this occasion for John Turner to display his versatility on the contrabass member of the recorder family. Now there is a suggestion for Ian Parrott who relishes the challenge of writing for rare instruments; the great bass recorder must be one of the very few he has yet to tackle!

Roger Carpenter

see also review by Hubert Culot

see also

ENGLISH RECORDER CONCERTOS John GARDNER (born 1917) Petite Suite Op.245 (2001) John McCABE (born 1939) Domestic Life (2000/1) Peter LAWSON (born 1951) Song of the Lesser Twayblade (2000) Kenneth LEIGHTON (1929 – 1988) Concerto Op.88 (1982)a Philip LANE (born 1950) Suite Champêtre (1982) Wilfrid MELLERS (born 1914) Aubade (1961) Robin MILFORD (1903 – 1953) Two Pipe Tunes (1929) Norman KAY (1929 – 2001) Mr Pitfield’s Pavane (2000) Stephen DODGSON (born 1924) Concerto Chacony (2000) John Turner (recorder); Keith Elcombe (harpsichord)a; Royal Ballet Sinfonia; Gavin Sutherland Recorded: Sony Music Studios, London, July 2001 ASV WHITE LINE CD WHL 2143 [76:58] [HC]

Light-hearted, colourful and tuneful, sometimes with more than a hint of mild irony. … Hubert Culot

THIRTEEN WAYS OF LOOKING AT A BLACKBIRD Music for recorder and string quartet David FORSHAW (b.1938) Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird (1996) Leonard BERNSTEIN (1918 – 1990) Variations on an Octatonic Scale (1989) Richard ARNELL (b.1917) Quintet "The Gambian" Op.107 (1965) David ELLIS (b.1933) Elegiac Variations Op.66 (2001) Robert SIMPSON (1921 – 1997) Variations and Fugue (1959) Beth WISEMAN (b.1951) Dances on my Grave (2000) Mátyás SEIBER (1905 – 1960) Pastorale (1941) Philip WOOD (b.1972) Concertino for Recorder & String Quartet (2000) John Turner (recorders); The Camerata Ensemble (Richard Howard, Julian Hanson [violins]; Tom Dunn [viola]; Jonathan Price [cello]) Recorded: ASC Studios, Macclesfield, December 2000 and May 2001 OLYMPIA OCD 710 [60:40] [HC][CSS]

One of those enterprising compilations in which John Turner’s unrivalled flair for unearthing rarities or commissioning new works for his instruments pays high dividends. [Hubert Culot]

This disc, opening in a veritable orgy of bird-song as picturesque as anything in Messiaen, explores many curious paths.[Colin Scott-Sutherland]

Hat Box: Music for Recorder and Guitar Alan BULLARD Hat Box Stepan RAK Arioso ANON Greensleeves to a Ground Ernest TOMLINSON Chadkirk Idyll David ELLIS Fred's Blue Ginger Staircase Music Van EYK Variations on Dowland's Comagin John GOLLAND New World Dances: Three Pieces from the Select Cabinet John DUARTE Un Petit Jazz and Un Petit Bis Peter HOPE Bramall Hall Dances The Turner/Smith Duo: (John Turner, recorder, Neil Smith, guitar) Recorded at Chadkirk Chapel, Romiley and Manchester University Dept of Music. CAMPION CAMEO 2020 [67'81"] [CSS]

Infectious probably describes the music best. … Colin Scott-Sutherland

RECORDING OF THE MONTH Celtic Magic - Chamber music and songs by Peter Crossley-Holland and his circle Peter CROSSLEY-HOLLAND (1916-2001) The Nightingales (1945) - Ode to Mananan (1999) - The Weather the Cuckoo Likes; The Piper (1945) - Two Songs (1996) - Lullaby (1943/2001) - Trio (1940) - Twilight it is (1944) - John MANDUELL (b. 1928) "C-H" Recitative and Aria (2002) - Edmund RUBBRA (1901-1986) Oboe Sonata in C, Op. 100 (1958) - Julius HARRISON (1885-1963) Philomel (1938); I Know a Bank (1928) - John IRELAND (1879-1962) The Holy Boy (1919) - David COX (1916-1997) The Magical Island (1996) - Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976) Six Metamorphoses after Ovid, Op. 49 (1951) Lesley-Jane Richards, soprano John Turner, recorder - Richard Simpson, oboe - Keith Swallow, piano - Richard Howarth, violin - Tom Dunn, viola - Recorded at Manchester University Department of Music, 28th and 29th August 2002 CAMPION CAMEO 2026 [79.26] [NH]

John Turner's musical Midas touch pays further dividends with a disc full of superb British "byways" … Neil Horner

ANIMAL HEAVEN Edward HARPER (b.1941) Lights Out (1993) 1. The Trumpet 2. The Ash Grove 3. The Wind’s Song 4. Lights Out Lyell CRESSWELL (b.1944) Prayer to appease the Spirit of the Land Kenneth LEIGHTON (1929-1988) Animal Heaven (1980) 1. I think I could turn and live with animals 2. Here they are Sally BEAMISH (b.1956) Four Findrinny Songs (1998) 1. Short Heraldry 2. Grey Seal 3. Three Horizons 4. Italia Roger WILLIAMS (b.1943) Oh! Mr Lear! (1998) 1. There was an Old Man in a Tree 2. There was an Old Man of the Isles 3. A Scottish Lullaby and Scherzo 4. There was an Old Man of Dundee David JOHNSON (b.1942) God, Man and the Animals (1983-88) Alison Wells soprano, John Turner recorder, Keith Elcombe harpsichord, Jonathan Price cello. Recorded in the Reid Concert Hall Edinburgh 6-8 September 1999 METIER MSV CD92036 DDD [61:32] [CT]

Strong, highly committed performances of works that deserve to be heard and another example of Metier’s outstanding commitment to contemporary British music. ... Christopher Thomas

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