Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Len Mullenger:

Adam GORB - Metropolis * Martin ELLERBY - Paris Sketches * Geoffery POOLE - Sailing With Archangels * Nigel CLARKE - Samurai     The Royal Northern College of Music Wind Orchestra conducted by Timothy Reynish and Clarke Rundell   CLASSICPRINT CPV004CD * [59:47]

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Here we have a striking release from a label new to me, Classicprint. Fortunately the company offers rather higher standards than the name, indicative of cheap photographic processing, promises. Metropolis is most attractively presented in digipak form, using 90% recycled materials and local labour, and looks and feels like a quality product through and through. With the sheer number of releases today it makes sense to do something to make your titles stand-out in the crowd, and this disc certainly does that.

Metropolis is actually the title piece of an album which presents one work of approximately quarter-of-an-hour duration by each of four composers, all scored for wind and percussion. These are contemporary pieces - the oldest composer being born in 1949 - and while they are modern in voice they are all clearly written for the audience rather than the hopefully now discredited ivory tower theorists who attempted to destroy music a generation and two ago. Perhaps for composers raised with the cinema programmatic music is more acceptable than it once was, for certainly in one way or another each of the four works is unashamedly programmatic, even, cinematic. It is also young music, enthusiastic, and often very loud.

Out of a scuttering nervous chaos, suddenly we are on Bernstein's Broadway, a swinging syncopated rhythm, and walking piano baseline alternate with the hustle of the Metropolis. Adam Gorb has written cool, exhilarating music, requiring staggering virtuosity from the players for what is a spellbinding exercise in orchestral modern jazz. And yes, there are moments which suggest both Michael Dougherty's superman-inspired Metropolis Symphony and the more experimental moments of John William's score for Superman The Movie. This isn't comic-book Mickey-Mouse music, but rather the metropolis in all its manifold colours. Things eventually calm down, and we get a mournful sax-solo, the lonely late-night song of the big city, before the piece ends 'starkly and simply'. The composer says he was inspired to reflect the hectic pace of modern life after listening to a radio play set in the 21st century, but of course the urban SF dystopia can also be traced to Fritz Lang's film Metropolis (1926), which surely must be the origin of the title here.

Metropolis is in a single 14 minute movement. Martin Ellerby's Paris Sketches offers four short scenes from a different metropolis Saint-Germain-des-Prés recalls a Copland sunrise, perhaps with a touch of Baxian boldness once the city is alive. Pigalle is definitely off-Broadway, jazzy, witty, and full of fun, Père Lachaise is dreamy, romantic and beguiling, while Les Halles opens with a Hollywood fanfare and offers a rousing celebration. The composer himself mentions Ravel, Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Satie and Berlioz in his notes, and quotes the latter in the finale. I have no idea what nationality Martin Ellerby is, but this music really sounds like the work of an American in Paris, and is none the worse for it.

Sailing with Archangels by Geoffrey Poole, is inspired by 'the relationship of man and the sea', specifically the voyages of Vasco de Gamba between 1497-99. He describes the work as "a vast photographic collage: the jarring of consecutive images…" This is more sober than the previous pieces, a work in one 20-minute movement sub-divided into six sections which doesn't, as might be expected, draw upon Renaissance music. This is very much a late-20th century continuation of the English classical tradition, with hits of sea shanties and folk melodies among some robustly architectural writing. Hornpipes however does have fun with some brassy impersonations of ship's horns, and a mutant sort of jazz emerges yet again. Tradewinds sparkles with warm breezes, some atmospherically scored percussion, and a whiff of the orient. The finale, Ocean, is a chillingly majestic portrait of the unrelenting sea. Poole says that he intended to bridge the gap between modern music and today's 'superb youth bands', and he has presented them with a fair challenge here.

Samurai by Nigel Clarke ends the programme with some thrillingly dynamic controlled fury. This is explosive writing, yet extremely well controlled and organised, with a relentless percussive edge which calls to mind Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring and Jerry Goldsmith's The Planet of the Apes and The Wind and the Lion. However, Clarke also depicts the cultured, artistic side of the Samurai, in ways which one has to say evoke a CinemaScope orient. Depending on your taste for Bernard Herrmann in exotic mode you will be right at home here.

Though parts of the classical world would still like to pretend that the cinema does not exist (even jazz only gets a grudging look in), it is absurd to deny that the most important new art and entertainment form of the last century must inevitably have had an influence upon composers who have grown-up with it, even if they have never composed for it. I have heard few discs where that influence was so obvious as here, and the result is to revitalise the classical tradition, with four pieces that normal people might even be tempted to pay to hear. Above all else it is a joy to hear contemporary classical music which one would actually look forward to hearing again, rather than dashing for the off button with maximum haste. The complex interplay of wind and percussion is frequently stunning, the playing astonishingly dextrous, and the recording superb, capturing the full range of this vibrant programme with overwhelming physical intensity. Wait till the building is otherwise deserted, then set the amp to 11.


Gary S. Dalkin

and Ailís Ní Ríain adds

The Royal Northern College of Music Wind Orchestra is recognised as one of the leading conservatoire ensembles in the world. Since their formation almost twenty years ago, they have performed a vast amount of music, commissioning new works and reviving old. They have toured Japan and France and in their regular concerts at the RNCM have performed over 500 works. They have also made recordings of music by Richard Rodney Bennett, Guy Woolfenden and the Principal of the RNCM, Edward Gregson.

This CD contains pieces by the British composers Adam Gorb, Geoffrey Poole, Martin Ellerby and Nigel Clarke. Conducted by Timothy Reynish who has had a long affiliation with the wind orchestra and Clark Rundell - the conductor of the RNCM New Music Ensemble - these performances are impressive from what is ostensibly a student ensemble.

The recording opens with the hectic Metropolis by Adam Gorb, the new Head of Composition at the RNCM. This dramatic work, at turns brash and vulgar then tranquil and stark, was written to reflect the pace of modern-day living. The ensemble handles its explosive gestures and agitated pace with absolute confidence and clarity.

Martin Ellerby’s four-movement Paris Sketches pays homage to that city: to the artists and composers who have lived and worked there or indeed just passed through. Each of the four movements refers to prominent places or features in Parisian life. Ellerby’s score is a colourful, affectionate tribute to the city he loves. Awakening in the Latin Quarter of Saint-Germain-des-Pres he moves on to depict Pigalle – the Soho of Paris - as “a burlesque with scenes cast in the mould of a balletic scherzo, humourous in a kind of Stravinsky meets Prokofiev way”. Another movement is reminiscent of Satie’s Gymnopédies while the finale quotes from Berlioz’s Te Deum which received its premiere in Paris in1855. This lively, charming work is performed with great gusto and vigour by this youthful ensemble.

The Manchester-based composer Geoffrey Poole - who teaches composition at The University of Manchester - is represented here by a substantial twenty-minute work Sailing with Archangels. The theme is the relationship of man and the sea. The sea is represented by orchestral wind textures while ‘man’ is a mixture of hornpipes and shanties based on traditional models. These depict images of epic voyage and sea life while accompanied by a blasting horn.

The recording closes with Sumurai by Nigel Clarke, a powerful and vibrant work that juxtaposes two very different images of the Japanese Samurai. Firstly it represents the war-like imagery of the Samurai warrior then gradually relaxes to relate the more tranquil side of the Samuri with oboe and flute solos.

Programmatically, this is a well-balanced CD, although perhaps not abstract enough for the more hard-line fans of contemporary music. The RNCM Wind Ensemble’s playing is tight and assured throughout.



Ailís Ní Ríain




Gary S. Dalkin

Ailís Ní Ríain

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