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Manchester Accents
Terence GREAVES (b.1933)
Rondino for piano and small orchestra (1960) [5:52]
Jonathan Scott (piano)
Anthony GILBERT (b.1934)
Another Dream Carousel (1984 orch.2000) [7:56]
Walter CARROLL (1869-1955)/Eric FOGG (1903-1939)
Seascape: A Children's Suite for small orchestra (ca.1916, 1922-23) [6:59]
John McCABE (b.1939)
Two Dances from 'Mary Queen of Scots' for string orchestra and harp (1975)
Thomas PITFIELD (1903-1999)
Theme and Variations for string orchestra (pub.1951) [13:24]
John MANDUELL (b.1928)
Diversions for chamber orchestra (1969) [15:53]
James LANGLEY (1927-1994)
Four Movements for string orchestra [12:29]
Northern Chamber Orchestra/Nicholas Ward
rec. St. Thomas Church, Stockport, 30-31 October 2000.
ASC RECORDS ASC CS CD45 [68:39]

Experience Classicsonline

 

I'm sorry, this happens very rarely, but I've been taken completely by surprise. This is one of those discs which is so toothsome and lovely in almost every regard that I have become almost tearful every time I've played it in the last few weeks.

The programme opens with the transparent orchestration and witty turns of phrase in Terence Greaves' Rondino for piano and small orchestra. This short piece is filled with a clarity of vision and joie de vivre which transcends criticism, wearing its romantic connections without shame or pretension. Another Dream Carousel by Anthony Gilbert is an entirely different kettle of fish, consisting of a strange waltz sequence which at first builds from the lower strings, and continues with driving rhythm until a more lyrical section starts up around two minutes in. There are of course associations with Ravel, through the string orchestra sound is far removed from the hard-hitting La Valse. Strangeness of harmonic progression disturb the essential ballroom feel of the central section, but the image of whirling dancers is nevertheless unavoidable. 5:45 and the rhythmic pulse begins to grow again, this time from the upper strings, towards an impressively enigmatic mini-coda flourish with which to finish.

Winds and some gentle percussion add new colour to the instrumentation of Seascape: A Children's Suite. The origins of the music are obscure, but the booklet notes print the literary texts which go with each of the five movements. These are little more than delightful musical sketches or miniatures, filled with atmosphere and some fascinating melodic inventiveness. Walter Caroll was indeed known for his numerous short piano pieces, although he also completed a large scale Piano Sonata. I suppose the name Grieg comes close when trying to find a reference with which to compare this Suite with something, but only in terms of creative spirit and pastoral or folk-like feel.

John McCabe's compact Two Dances from "Mary Queen of Scotts" for string orchestra and harp open with some orchestral tolling which brings Tippett to mind, as do the viola solos with harp accompaniment. The first is a fine 'Courtly Dance' to which one can imagine formal steps and choreographic patterns. The second, Riccio's Lute Dance, is light of texture and again filled with elegant filigree and some fascinating chamber-music lines and interactions. This is a highly attractive pairing which leaves one wanting more.

Thomas Pitfield's Theme and Variations for me has, in a secular setting, a similar effect to that of some of Herbert Howells' best church choral music, and some of these movements can stand easily alongside Elgar's string scores. Remarkably, this charming piece was nearly lost altogether. The publisher, Augener, pulped the largest part of its catalogue of Pitfield's work, and the material for this performance was reconstructed from a surviving copy of the pocket score. No, it won't shatter the earth to its core, but the world would be a poorer place for the loss of this kind of music, and it makes one wonder how many pieces of this kind of quality are lost in this and other ways down the years. The movements are arranged as a kind of suite, with pairings of Minuet and Trio, Air and Canon etc. The final return of the theme is truly magnificent.

John Manduell's Diversions were scored to be programmed with material such as the early and middle period Haydn symphonies, being kept to two strings, two oboes and two horns. The musical idiom is however a sharp contrast to that classical composer, with a clustering of harmonies and angularity of melodic shape which is also far removed from the more direct romantic spirit of most of the music on this disc. This is not to say that the music is particularly difficult or inaccessible, but the sound worlds of characteristic rhythmic pacing or more gentle lyricism are constantly subverted by dissonance or the distortion of textures and shapes which might otherwise slip into stereotype. There are some gorgeously creepy horn glissandi in the last movement, and some interesting off-stage effects.

The last work in this excellent programme returns us to the gentler landscapes of James Langley's Four Movements for string orchestra. The words in the booklet, 'lilting' and 'wistful' for the first and third movements, or 'brisk' and 'lively' for the second and fourth sum up the music well, without giving it real credit for the craftsmanship and inventiveness it incorporates. The Cavatina in particular is striking for its descending chromatic lines, showing how the sometimes over-rich romanticism of Europe can still in some intangible way be made to work for the English traditionalist.

This disc is filled with both new discovery and, for me, the familiarity of a musical language which may or may not be alive and kicking today, but which at its best is as easy on the eye as friendly faces on the streets of one's home town. Every one of the pieces on this CD has its own atmosphere, substance and emotional weight - something we ex-pat British composers can either become all blurry-eyed and sentimental about, or which can be taken on its own value and terms. The recording is excellent, and set in an appropriately resonant acoustic. The playing of the Northern Chamber Orchestra is also exemplary. Fans of good music everywhere should snap this up before stocks run out.

Dominy Clements

see also review by Colin Scott Sutherland


 


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