Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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DEREK BELL · Variations and Musical Quotations Come on Northern Ireland, Come On for mezzo. chorus and orchestra (19) 14:04 · Divertissement Variations on a Tune kindly contributed by Dr Paddy Moloney (19) 15:28 · Toccata Burlesca for oboe and piano (1958) 3:44 · Symphony No 2 The Violet Flame, Comte de Saint Germain (1990) 30:33


  BEINSA DOUNO 1864-1944 (8:36) · Izgyava slunteseto (arr Barnaby Brown) for flute and harp · Vehadi for tenor and harp · Kiamen Zenu (arr Derek Bell) for tenor and harp · Gospodi. kolko te obicham (arr Barnaby Brown) for solo harp  Vratza Philharmonic Orchestra/Bulgarian National Philharmonic Choir cond Valeri Vatchev - various Bulgarian soloists Derek Bell appears as harpist in the Douno pieces and in the symphony and variations. He is the pianist in the Toccata.  MINERVA Athene ATH CD14 73:52

Most of the music on the disc is by Derek Bell, playing for a total of 63:49 by comparison with Beinsa Dunso’s 8:36. Bell is the harpist of the world-famous group The Chieftains. He is also a fine pianist, cimbalom and dulcimer player. He has three piano sonatas and two symphonies to his name along with much else. After hearing the second I am extremely interested in hearing the first and indeed his other works. The style he adopts is not difficult or overly modernistic.

The Variations and Musical Quotations (1985) are difficult to approach. Not that the music is at all challenging. It is a strange confection which I find unsatisfactory though you can applaud the exhortation to the positive forward-looking direction of Northern Ireland. The piece quotes extensively from Schumann’s Symphony No. 4. The drums: bodhran and Lambeg representing the contrasting Irish cultures also feature. This is an occasional piece and this track is valuable as a memento of the occasion rather than something I personally would want to return to very often.

The cheeky, chummy and slightly boozy Divertissement (1977) sounds like a cross between Mozart, Dvorák and Malcolm Arnold. Good companionable occasional music. A work which any ensemble looking to ring the changes would do well to look out.

The Toccata Burlesca (1958) for oboe and piano is determinedly busy at first but from the first entry of the oboe the atmosphere changes to a plaintive serenade. Sometimes it suggested a French twentieth century romantic ballet. The overtones of Malcolm Arnold are also there again.

The symphony is a major edifice deploying large orchestra, organ, piano, mixed chorus and harp. It is in five sections. The first opens with a grim set to the jaw but at 1:05 relaxes into a serenade-like song. The notes indicate an inspiration linked deeply into Rosicrucian mysticism. However the French atmosphere is what predominates with hints of Dvorák again but with a dash of Boieldieu (Harp Concerto), Arnold, William Alwyn (Lyra Angelica) and Schubert. The second movement (Invocation of Pan) uses the solo harp very prominently and attractively. There is a sense of lofty emotions, joy and attainment in the choral finale but the music is not as striking as the avowed programme. This work is heavily programmed with grand themes which sound worthy of Scriabin at his most mystical and ambitious. The music would have benefited from the notes being less explicit. The listener would perhaps do well to hear the music without the possible distraction of the notes.

The final clutch of four little compositions by Douno are pleasing but have not struck me as more than that.

The booklet is in English only and contain full notes on the music and the people involved in this fascinating production.

The profits of sale are being donated by Athene to support and encourage children in Bulgaria.

There is much to enjoy here but the pleasures are low key. Nevertheless there is something about that symphony which intrigues me and I would very much like to hear more by Bell who is not afraid to write in an idiom which suits him rather than seeks after originality or the shock of yesterday’s avant-garde.


Rob Barnett

A rather different review by David Wright

Derek Bell is the harpist with The Chieftains. Everyone tells me that he is a most congenial man. He is evidently a fine harpist.

But he is no composer.

The proceeds of the sale of this disc are to aid a charity called The Grain of Wheat which seeks to give musical therapy to young orphans in Bulgaria ... a noble cause.

But the music on this disc is simply ghastly.

The first item Variations: Come on, Northern Ireland, come on is appalling music; it is really that bad. And it contains a quotation of over a hundred bars from Schumann's Symphony No 4. Why? It is 'spiced up' with Irish drums and is so ludicrous that it is embarrassing.

The Divertissement on a tune kindly contributed by Dr Paddy Moloney is another inane title and, again, the music is so poor that one wonders how anyone would want to play it let alone record it. The Toccata burlesca fares a little better but it also lacks purpose, sense and direction.

And we come to the Symphony No 2 which lasts for thirty minutes but it seems an eternity. It is so utterly devoid of any redeeming features; it is suicidally boring.

Enter Linda, a clinical psychologist.

"Shall I open the bottle of Teachers now?" she asks.

"No," I reply, "but some black coffee would be welcome."

And it is.

The pieces by Beinsa Duono, a mystic Bulgarian, (1864-1944) are slight and of no consequence.

Linda returns.

"Shall we extend this evening of misery?" she enquires. "Let's put on the Elgar Cello Concerto, a late Piano Sonata by Schubert, some waltzes by Johann Strauss and then Elton John and the Sex Pistols ..."

I thank her for her kind suggestion but make another. She smiles radiantly and with approval.

The music on this disc is appalling, shockingly bad and tedious. It is not music to die for but music that needs a Government Health Warning.

Simply dreadful. Unbearable.


David Wright

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Rob Barnett

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