James WILSON (b1922)
Menorah (Viola Concerto), Op. 122*
Concertino, Op. 37 [12.38]
Pearl and Unicorn (Violin Concerto), Op. 20
* Constantin Zanidache
** Alan Smale (vln)
National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland conducted by Colman Pearce
Recorded, April 1996 in the National Concert hall,
MARCO POLO 8. 225027
James Wilson was born in London. After the Second World War he moved to Ireland,
where he has lived ever since hence his inclusion in Marco Polo's Irish Composer
series. As will be seen from the opus number allotted to Menorah his
creative output is large. Unfortunately, the information which accompanies
the CD, including notes by Wilson himself (albeit edited by someone else),
do not include the dates of composition of the works here recorded.
Menorah is Wilson's response to a visit, which he paid to the
memorial, outside Jerusalem, erected to the memory of the children who perished
in the Holocaust. It is in three movements, the last of which, marked 'con
tenerezza', is apparently based on Brahms' Cradle Song although Brahms'
music is not quoted directly. In his notes James Wilson tells us that the
first movement is "constructed on a complex mathematical basis". This may
be so but I'm afraid that the thematic basis of the movement completely eluded
me. In the second movement the soloist is accompanied only by brass and
percussion. The full orchestra is restored, albeit with restraint, for the
third movement which Wilson describes as "the core of the work". Here the
scoring is indeed atmospheric and I found it the most interesting section
of the concerto with the references to Brahms discernible, if fleeting.
To judge from their respective opus numbers the other two works on the disc
are much earlier compositions. The Concertino is in one continuous
movement but is divided into three clearly identifiable sections. The first
of these sounds like a dream-like piece of nachtmusik which includes
some interesting touches of orchestral colouring. Indeed, I would say that
on the evidence of this CD James Wilson is an effective and imaginative
The Pearl and the Unicorn is scored for solo violin and small
orchestra. It was written for the present soloist, Alan Smale, who is also
the leader of the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland. It is a four-movement
work which I'm afraid I found a little arid. Incidentally, there is an editorial
slip in the track listing on the jewel case by which the tracks for the last
two movements of this work are transposed. The slow movement comes third,
not last and is followed by the short, perky finale.
Both of the soloists play well, though neither is given any significant
opportunity for lyricism. The orchestra, under Colman Pearce gives attentive
support. The recording is cut at a slightly low level but still presents
a good sound picture.
Others may respond more readily than I did to the music on this disc. Despite
some atmospheric and intriguing scoring I must confess that I was not greatly
attracted to James Wilson's music, still less moved by it.