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Jon Lord (b. 1941)
Durham Concerto (2007)
(Part I, Morning, I. The Cathedral at Dawn [11:31]; Part I, Morning, II. Durham Awakes [8:28]; Part II, Afternoon, I. The Road from Lindisfarne [7:18]; Part II, Afternoon, II. From Prebends Bridge [8:31]; Part III, Evening, I. Rags & Galas [8:25]; Part III, Evening, II. Durham Nocturne [12:11])
Matthew Barley (cello); Jon Lord (Hammond organ); Ruth Palmer (violin); Kathryn Tickell (Northumbrian pipes)
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Mischa Damev
rec. Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool, 18-19 July 2007. DDD
Avie AV2145 [56:24]

Sound Samples
The Cathedral at Dawn
Durham Awakes
The Road from Lindisfarne
From Prebends Bridge
Rags and Galas
Durham Nocturne

Experience Classicsonline

I’m not normally a fan of ‘crossover’ music – though many of the medieval and renaissance works that I review are the crossover music of their day, with secular chansons re-worked as settings of the mass – so I was rather sniffy when I saw this recording advertised, even when it received general acclaim, not least from Rob Barnett here on Musicweb – see review. There are some reviewers who always seem to be spot-on: over the years I found that Edward Greenfield’s reviews in Gramophone and The Guardian nearly always led me in the right direction, apart from the Naxos Shostakovich Leningrad and Eighth Symphonies where his recommendation led me to purchase Slovak’s seriously under-powered performances, long since replaced in my collection.

I’m coming to realise that Rob Barnett’s reviews are equally likely to lead in the right direction. He may be less happy with Andrew Davis’s first version of Elgar’s Enigma Variations, recently reissued on Lyrita, than I was (SRCD.301 – compare his review with mine: at least we both very much liked the Falstaff) but his advice led me to what I now consider my ideal versions of Bax’s first two symphonies (SRCD.232 and 233 – see review) and his review of Josef Holbrooke’s The Birds of Rhiannon persuaded me to give a second chance to a work and recording that I had written off thirty years ago (SRCD.269 – see my recent recantation). Thus it was that I came to Jon Lord’s Durham Concerto, a work which I am sure I shall return to frequently. It took me thirty years to put the Holbrooke work in its proper place, so a six month delay for Jon Lord is comparatively short.

Like the music of Respighi, the Durham Concerto is reminiscent of the best film music, though without the rather brash edge of Feste Romane. I don’t mean the comparison in any derogatory sense: I mean film music of the quality of John Williams, Erich Korngold and Franz Waxman. If I were a film director, I’d feel seriously challenged to produce the visual equivalent of this music; it would need to be several cuts above the usual run of travelogue to be a worthy companion to the music.

Admittedly, aspects of the Durham Concerto are derivative – Debussy’s La Mer, Vaughan Williams’s London Symphony, Holst’s Hammersmith, Coates’s Piccadilly – but the influences are absorbed, as Fauré’s influence is absorbed by Duruflé. I didn’t find myself checking them off, as I do whenever I hear the Lloyd-Webber Requiem. Nor did I find the use of the Hammond organ or the local colour provided by the Northumberland pipes at all corny, especially when the pipes are played by their greatest exponent, Kathryn Tickell.

The one thing which I thought was something of a mistake was the interpolation of the Gaudeamus igitur theme to represent Durham University – more of a glance in the direction of the Brahms Academic Festival Overture than part of the British academic tradition. I’m sure that my contemporaries at Durham would no more associate Gaudeamus igitur with that university than I would with Oxford.

Some of Avie’s publicity material is on the pretentious side and not strictly accurate – the ‘Venerable’ Bede was canonised long ago and should be accorded his proper title, as St Cuthbert is.

The Liverpool Phil and Mischa Damev clearly take the music seriously; the performance is all that could be desired and the recording engineers have also done well by the music. If you want to sample before deciding, RB’s review and the Avie website offer several soundclips.

This is one of many Avie recordings which are also available from eMusic (emusic.com) as good quality downloads. The bit rate never falls below the magic 192kbps and two tracks weigh in at 224kbps – why the variation, I wonder, which I have noted on other eMusic downloads? I certainly found nothing to complain of in terms of sound quality. It’s also available at 320kbps from Chandos’s theclassicalshop.net.

You do miss the notes, of course, but RB’s detailed Musicweb review to which I have referred above will repair much of that loss; it also includes as an appendix a considerable amount of the Avie publicity material which accompanied the recording. Whichever form you go for, you really should give this work a try.

Brian Wilson

 


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