The British composer Marcus Blunt was born in Birmingham in 1947.
He studied composition at the University College of Wales in Aberystwyth
and has since travelled widely, and worked widely, before moving
to Scotland in 1990. His biography includes such occupations between
1970 and 1976 as warehouse packer and photographic processor –
which puts George Lloyd’s mushroom and carnation business into
some kind of compositional context. He’s now the composer-in-residence
for the Dumfries Music Club.
Given that the majority
of his works are instrumental it makes sense to concentrate
on his piano music. It’s played by the dedicatee of one of his
most recent pieces, the avidly curious and eloquent Murray McLachlan.
You’ll note that I’ve retained the upper and lower case particularities
of that piece and also the fantasies on the names of Scriabin
and Fauré – these are explained more fully in the notes and
don’t affect one’s appreciation of the music.
gives us three piano sonatas, programmed in reverse. The compact
eleven-minute plus First was written in 1971-72 – that’s to
say shortly after he graduated – and revised in 1997. It consists
of a Fantasia and a series of Variations. There’s a puckish
baroque spirit at work in the first and a strong flirtation
with twelve-tone in the variations. The Second Sonata followed
in 1977 but like the First was subject to revision, this time
in 1998. This is a particularly revealing and successful work.
The first movement rocking themes coalesce with a powerful sense
of character in the chordal writing. The finale of this tightly
constructed three-movement work is agitated and quite declamatory
– the repetition of the chordal writing gives it a starkly uncompromising
nature – and the Messiaen touches seem to me to be deliberate.
The Third Sonata (1988 revised 1994) bears the title The
Life Force. In only seven minutes we meet some astutely
fluid writing, still maybe bearing ghostly trace marks of the
influence of Tippett. Rolling and dramatic and with strongly
contrapuntal elements this is a fine example of Blunt’s inheritance
and unassuming control of sonata elements.
The early Preludes
are in fact his earliest piano works. They’re not yet fully
characteristic but show intimations of the composer to come.
The Theme, the second of the seven, is spare but has atmosphere
whilst the Jiglet has a pawky humour. The Scarlatti homage is
actually very clever – never resorting to pastiche or nostalgia.
The two Scriabin homages are clearly imaginative foretastes
of his later compositional association - in the shape of the
1992 Fantasy - with a composer who has clearly been highly influential
The two little Iona
pieces are rather too elliptical for full pleasure but the Nocturnes
impress more. They summon up a sense of place and personality.
The tribute to the composer’s friend Frank Bayford is especially
warm and affectionate. He retains independence in his Scriabin
Fantasy – this is an artful and eventful piece, finely textured
- and the Fauré tribute summons up the spirit of the composer
through the sparest of means. Finally there’s the tribute to
McLachlan, which begins quietly but generates a fulsome, powerful
dynamic – how astute a character study this is perhaps only
the pianist can know!
So a most enjoyable
recital, attractively recorded, and played with typical sensitivity
by a pianist fully in sympathy with the music’s demands and
nature-mystic moments. But when will we hear Blunt’s Piano Concerto?
Admirers of the composer should agitate for it and Dunelm should
go on a drive to get this in the recording can without undue