Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:

Two reviews and a short article by Philip Scowcroft

Colin BAYLISS (b. 1948)
Piano Sonata No. 1 Benedictio Mariae (1982)
Piano Sonata No. 2 (1996)
Six Bagatelles (1981)
Three Impressionist Sketches (1981)
Encore - A Tentative Tango (1996)
David Martin (piano)
rec ASC studios, Macclesfield, 1998

Compact disc is surely the ideal practical medium for becoming familiar with music. Repeat listenings are there for the taking and, while it is undeniable that the performance is stuck immutable like an insect in jet, beauties still float freely, progressively released by listening again and again.

Colin Bayliss's name is little known. He is a British composer born in Nottinghamshire and his profuse output has not been matched by a drive to promote performances and recordings. Now, however, his Da Capo publishing house is producing a series of CDs under the New Century Classics label and this is the first. The second collects his organ music and is also reviewed here.

The first sonata (also scored as his second string quartet) learns lessons from Shostakovich's grotesquerie, Mussorgsky's gaucheness and French impressionism. It is a work seemingly much taken with the fast ticking of time-pieces. While not straightforwardly tonal it rejects despotic avant-garde extremism. Think in terms of late Shostakovich. Fourteen years on and the second sonata is both more introspective and more richly endowed with a romance that touches base with Grieg and with Medtner. Into it is woven material from Beethoven's Les Adieux sonata. The sharply rhythmic central movement might at one moment make you think of Gershwin and at another of Nikolai Kapustin. The Six Bagatelles are less equivocal in their tonality and without being facile will appeal instantly. Bayliss has a nice way with subtle tunes. The final Valse is redolent of the waltzes in Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet. The Three Impressionist Sketches are contemporary with the first sonata and with the Bagatelles though they are more involuted than the Bagatelles. Thamesnight takes up where the middle movement of Beethoven's Emperor left off. Jonathan Middleton has also recorded the Sketches (A.S.C. CD CS CD1) so this is at least their second recording on compact disc. The disc ends with a stately Tango.

David Martin is a technically accomplished player who plays with the utmost confidence. There is no faltering or lack of direction. Greater dynamic contrast would have further aided the Bayliss case and David Martin is imperfectly served by the instrument or acoustic which is clear but lacks resilient richness. There is just that hint of wet pebbles about it. Your mind's ear translates easily enough but a better instrument or venue would have aided listening pleasure.

The cover of this disc and of the organ music CD are decorated with still life oils by Rayna L Harris.

All of this makes me keen to hear the string quartets, and the four symphonies. I heard a tape of his Baltic Dances (for orchestra) some time ago and can assure you that Bayliss is a skilled and melodically gifted composer.

Rob Barnett

Colin BAYLISS (1948-)
The complete organ music

Prelude (1990)
Organ Sonata (1992)
Postlude (1992)
Funeral Music (1996)
Wedding Music (1971)
Ronald Frost (organ)
St Ann's Church, Manchester, rec 1990s
New Century Classics NCC 2002 [50.03]

Colin Bayliss was born in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire and is a prolific composer. His catalogue runs to 100 opus numbers with four symphonies, six string quartets and five concertos. Da Capo music, founded by Bayliss in 1992, publishes his works as well as the music of many other British composers. On the New Century Classics label they are branching out into CDs. Bayliss's dedication to the cause of music has also allowed time for catalogues of the music of Peter Maxwell Davies and Anthony Hedges.

To the music: Both the Prelude and the Postlude sport Sibelian apparel in a harmonically spicy Gallic 'sauce'. They are neatly sequenced to flank the Sonata. The Sonata's ruminative Moderato is succeeded by a fantastic allegro. The resplendent crunch and battery of harmonic collisions are the stuff of which Bayliss's organ music is luxuriantly spun though not in such profusion that textures become muddy. His inventive stock comes up with a winner of a tune at 3.20 in the allegro - triumphant and yet shambling and uncertain. The Postlude was, like the Sonata, written for Joseph Nolan. It comes as no surprise to read that Bayliss thinks orchestrally. So often in listening to this work orchestral instruments and groupings are vividly suggested. Ronald Frost is a dextrous and sensitive performer and Bayliss must be very well pleased with the results. At just over 52 minutes this disc could perhaps be reissued in the future with yet more (as yet unwritten) pieces by Bayliss.

Funeral Music was written on the occasion of the heart attack of the composer's sister; thankfully she achieved a good recovery. It suggests the great mysteries rather than grief though their is comfort in such impersonalities. The Wedding Music had its genesis in Bayliss's first wedding in 1971 and comprises arrangements of passages from Lohengrin (lovely liquid playing) and Götterdämmerung.

Organists would do well to look closely at these fine works. They add lustre to the repertoire.

Rob Barnett



The string quartets are being recorded by the Lochrian string quartet, who have so far got numbers 3 and 6 in the can together with the violin and cello duet Slovak Rhapsody. The Two Movements for String Trio is scheduled next, together with the 5th quartet, leaving nos.1, 2 and 4 to be recorded early next year.


In case of difficulty:-

Orders (£12 per disc - £10 if you are a BMS member) can be placed with

Da Capo Music Ltd
26 Stanway Road
Manchester M45 8EG

phone 0161 766 5950


COLIN BAYLISS by Philip Scowcroft

In an article for COMA (Contemporary Music-making for Amateurs), Colin Bayliss wrote of the necessity of composers never to give up composing and to believe entirely in what they were doing. The article was extensively quoted by the Voluntary Arts Network Newsletter as an example to creative artists in all fields. Colin's life is an example of living by his own words.

He was born on 15 February 1948 in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire and tells the joke against himself that "you can tell that I was born in the back streets of a mining village in D.H. Lawrence's Nottinghamshire by the silk bow ties and the received pronunciation". His academic qualifications are a degree in History and a post-graduate Diploma in Librarianship from London University, but all his adult life he has written music, which has been an obsession with him from his early teens.

Completely self-taught, he assimilated the techniques of the Baroque, Classical and Romantic periods, producing some early derivative works which he swears will never see the light of day. His very early efforts, before the age of 20, he destroyed. Although he has published some of the early derivative pieces with slight revisions, he feels that his strength as a composer lies in his having worked out a way to compose using serial technique in a manner whereby he is able to produce melody from the note rows in a logical manner. His view on strict 12-note composition is that there is nothing wrong with 12-tone music, except that most composers don't write it very well - the worst being Schoenberg, Berg and Webern!

In spite of this somewhat cerebral approach to his own output, he has written several pieces which may be regarded as eminently "accessible". Some pieces like the Wind Trio of 1995, are both serial and accessible. Several piano works such as the Six Bagatelles, Three Impressionist Sketches, (due to appear on CD and depicting respectively a Kentish sunset, a firework display on the Thames and a theatre Matinee), and Valentines, are all written in a straightforward tonal style, as are his "Iron Curtain" folkdance-based orchestral pieces, the chamber symphony Children of Prague, dedicated to the Czech freedom rights movement, Charter 77, and the three suites: Baltic Dances (first performed on the day after the fall of the Berlin Wall), For Romanis (composed in three days whilst observing the downfall of the Ceaucescu regime on the television) and Costumes: Dances from Poland which may be reckoned as "light" music in the best British tradition.

Other large-scale works include two operas and three other symphonies; one, Romantic, is another deliberately unpublished work written in his thirties to overcome a creative block and he describes it as "the last Romantic symphony - something to make Sibelius's 2nd sound tuneless." His other symphonies are Vinlandsaga - A Nordic Symphony (on the discovery of America by the Vikings) and Ecocycle, a setting of ecological poems for two sopranos and orchestra. To date he has written four string quartets, the fourth a 13-movement piece synthesising 12-tone and tonal-sounding music, and a large amount of other chamber music, including two piano sonatas.

As well as composing, he has been responsible for producing annotated catalogues of the music of Anthony Hedges and Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. The first of these books was the first composer's catalogue ever to be produced in Britain by a local authority (Humberside) and the first to be available on floppy disc if required. As a result of this task for other composers, he began a catalogue of his own complete output, and the result, "The Music of Colin Bayliss - the First 100 Works", appeared in 1998 for his 50th birthday.

Philip Scowcroft

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