DOUBLE REVIEW HERE
This double CD of uplifting and consistently appealing chamber
and instrumental music by British composers, Hugh Wood, Lennox
Berkeley, Peter Racine Fricker, Martin Dalby and John McCabe,
and South African, Priaulx Rainier, is a little odd. It's
a reissue of Argo LPs from 1970 and 1974 respectively (ZRG
660, ZRG 750) in the case of Rainier and Wood; and of a L'Oiseau-Lyre
LP (LP DSLO 18) from 1977 in the case of Berkeley, Fricker,
Dalby and McCabe. All have been digitally re-mastered very
satisfactorily, although no tapes were locatable of the two
Rainier works: the LP itself was used.
On the first CD come the two Wood string quartets, which were written
in 1962 and 1970; and the two vocal pieces: The Horses
written in 1967 to three poems by Ted Hughes, and The Rider
Victory (1968) to four poems by Edwin Muir. It's not explicitly
stated anywhere on the product what the connections and reasons
for this collection are. So it's to be assumed that Lyrita,
owning the rights, has simply decided to make these ten inspiring
and durable pieces largely from the 1960s - Fricker's Sonata
was written in 1956 and Berkeley's Duo in 1971 - available
That's also good because only two of the pieces on offer here are
otherwise available: Quanta (on Redcliffe Recordings
7) and the Berkeley (on Naxos 8557324). Note that in the Naxos catalogue, as widely elsewhere
(e.g. http://www.lennoxberkeley.org.uk/works.php), this work
appears as Opus 81, 'number' (or 'part') 1 not 'Opus
18, part 1' as is printed in the booklet of this set… Op.
18 is Berkeley's Divertimento.
those who remember the feeling of the music and some of its
most exciting and committed performers at that time, to hear
Cantelo, Hamburger, Craxton and indeed McCabe himself again
is to hear just how justified was their authority in those
years. Experimentation seemed to be dictating so many directions
without any kind of self-consciousness or need to apologise.
After over 35 years this music sounds just as exciting, accomplished
two Wood string quartets will be the highlights for many.
The longest pieces at over sixteen and thirteen minutes each,
they are searching, rich and full of substance. Wood has five
string quartets and much other chamber music; he is as at
home in this milieu as in his larger, symphonic, pieces -
all too few of which have current recordings. So this set
is particularly welcome. Each has a connection with the BBC
and the Dartington Quartet… commission, first performance.
The quartets are sonorous and incisive, economical and distilled.
The first in particular achieves part of its impact thanks
to repeated self-reference. The second is radically different
in structure: no fewer than 39 continuous sections, some played
without synchronisation between players. Yet each conveys
as much passion and commitment to the musical ideas as does
each of the song settings.
are connections with the BBC again in the two short song 'cycles'.
Horses is in some ways a study in sound painting… the
mass and movement of the animal, and its wild habitat. Cantelo
and Hamburger are superbly evocative, yet always in control
here. The Rider Victory is equally intense and navigated
just as perceptively by the soprano (the score calls for 'high
voice') and pianist.
Rainier's oboe Quartet, Quanta, also has a connection
with the BBC: it's another Glock commission. In one movement,
it too makes much of the structure: spiky, self-referencing
and terse, it contrasts with the also single-movement String
Trio, especially in its arresting tempi. Craxton and her
quartet play both pieces with amazing eloquence - something
possible - or likely, perhaps - chiefly when surrounded by
music one of whose chief strengths was untrammelled experimentation
Duo is short. The piece - typical of his urbane, self-contained
smaller-scale music - also sees thematic progression in a
concentrated atmosphere. Peter Racine Fricker's Sonata
is the earliest music in this set to have been composed
- on Ischia with Walton (at least, first sketched there) in
1956. Again, it was commissioned by the BBC for the tenth
anniversary of the Third Programme. It's as unsettled and
fiery as a Walton symphony. Its lyrical moments surely suited
Gerald Moore better than the more extrovert first and third
movements; Moore premièred the work just over a dozen years
before the recording we hear here. The whole is animated and
vivacious yet leaves plenty of space for our rumination as
Scottish composer Martin Dalby also has strong connection
with the BBC: he worked on the Music Programme (successor
to the Third) after spending time in Italy. It was there -
in 1966 - that he wrote the again quite short Variations
for Cello and Piano; Italian colour and vibrancy are evident
in the piece. As is an almost Baroque attention to form and
structure… it's really a theme with eight variations.
Importantly, according to Dalby, the piece represents a turning
point in his compositional style. Lloyd Webber and McCabe
do its bouncy zest more than full justice. If you're listening
to the CD(s) straight through, it makes a good foil for the
last, rather sobering, piece, the Partita for Solo Cello
from the same year by McCabe himself. Again, variations and
sequences give the work its primary raison d'être.
There are character portraits, dances and several dashes of
humour and parody packed into the eight short movements of
here is a collection of music from composers with some things
in common. These five men and one women knew and mixed with
one another's teachers, academic institutions and performers;
all enjoyed the patronage of the BBC. At the distance of 35
plus years what strikes one is the self-confidence with which
new musical ideas arose and were elaborated by composers in
the middle of their careers. The open-mindedness and sheer
inspirational professionalism of a BBC dedicated primarily
to music as music - and not to packaging, pop, personalities
and ratings - is also refreshingly positive to recall.
the standard of music-making throughout the nearly two hours
of these two CDs is high. It's varied, too: performers in
those days seemed to permit themselves greater indulgences
- and justifiably so. The recordings and transfers are clean
and easy on the ear, if a little restricted in dynamic range.
booklet is useful (the ambiguity already cited notwithstanding);
it has the poems' texts, and brief sketches of the composers.
Those will be useful to anyone too young to have lived through
and/or be able to situate the figures to whom this set must
be regarded as a rather random tribute. As a representative
collection of mainstream music-making from over a generation
ago, when things were very different from today in terms of
what seemed possible, it makes interesting and rewarding listening.
And a further perspective from Rob Barnett
This collection mops up a chamber miscellany
deriving from three LPs of the 1970s. The provenance trail
leads us to two Decca sub-labels: Argo and L'Oiseau Lyre.
Dissonance predominates among these six composers
who were born between 1903 and 1942.
Hugh Wood's first two string quartets
are compact. The second is in a single movement. The first
is a vivid essay in Schoenbergian tension, scampering expansions
and sinister urgency. The Second is even more extreme in its
avant-garde embrace. Mordant attack and sudden pizzicato expostulations
blaze their way through this work without strangling opportunities
for eerie asides, shuddering revelation and moments of strained
lyricism. There are three other Wood quartets (1978, 1993,
2001). April Cantelo cannot be excelled in these songs. The
witty way she points the words 'and tilted hind hooves' is
matched by the bursting rhetorical conflagration and blast
of the Pennines in April. These three songs are from
Ted Hughes’ early collections The Hawk in the Rain and
Lupercal. These are not conventional settings - this
is after all Hugh Wood - but it is difficult to imagine them
set to other music. The ringing operatic confidence of Wood’s
Muir songs could hardly be projected with more volatile assurance
than they receive from Paul Hamburger and April Cantelo. For
an exemplary listening experience try The Bird which:
an explosion of admiration veering over the precipice into
The second disc starts with two works by Rainier.
Here we are recognisably in the same realm as Wood's Second
Quartet - just a little further North. Intriguingly, though,
Quanta does not deny the singing core of the oboe.
One thinks in this work of Crosse's Ariadne and even
of Malcolm Arnold's Oboe Concerto although the carapace is
dissonant. Much the same can be said of the usually sterner
format of the String Trio which ends with magical held-notes,
arresting time. We then arrive at four cello and piano works.
The Berkeley Duo represents a return to tonality even
if a full engagement is constrained by Berkeley's natural
reserve. The Fricker sonata in three movements and
was written at Walton's home in Ischia. Walton is the dedicatee.
It is a work of turbulent severity, exciting in the first
and riptide third movements and otherwise statuesque in the
manner of Hughes' Horses and lyrically expressive.
Ten years after the Fricker comes Aberdonian, Martin Dalby's
Variations. These are angular in the manner of Wood
and Rainier. McCabe's Partita is stern and grave. It
is again in the idiom of the times - the mid-1960s - yet with
some lyrical 'give' as at 4:50.
The recording of the cello and piano works
is excellent and compares favourably with the Rainier in terms
of background ‘burble’. That said, the cello and piano recordings
lack the centre-stage vivacity of the Rainier and the Wood.
These recordings all derive from British Council
analogue material. They have survived well although the years
have taken some slight toll on the Rainier recordings where
the background noise is uneven. The recording of the Wood
piece could hardly be more virile.
The words of the sung poems are printed.
Paul Conway's notes are, as ever, sure-footed
in this repertoire. One hopes that he will write one of the
great accounts of British music of the last century. He certainly
has it in him.
A fascinating collection bound to stir memories
or impressions from first time discovery but a satisfying
listening experience even if you are encountering these iconic
recordings for the first time.