Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:

Caprice (1990s) [2.14]
Prelude 3 (1985) [3.35]
Sonatine (1939) [9.53]
Richard Rodney BENNETT
Winter Music (1960) [9.32]
Sonatina (1953) [7.54]
Kestrel Paced Around the Sun (1976) [6.29]
Sonata (1946) [18.10]
Something Lost (1999) [12.35]
Sarah Brooke (flute)
Elizabeth Burley (piano)
rec 1997, Rosslyn Hill Chapel, Halstead

Is a whole disc devoted to British music for flute and piano more for the convenience of the company and the performers than for the delectation of the listener? Well, there can be little doubt that as a recording project it is far more cogent and tidy to feature one ensemble and one genre for each CD. I am sure I recall reading that mixed genre CDs tend to do rather poorly in the marketplace (eg where you mix solo piano, chamber and orchestral).

The Scottish composer Edward McGuire has not been elevated to the celebrity of Macmillan or Beamish but this is for extra-musical reasons rather than any defect in his music. The notes mention his Calgacus and Glasgow Symphony (orchestral pieces) both of which attained performances and broadcasts during the 1990s. These two pieces have more in common with the stream of melody that is his sadly unrecorded orchestral piece Source. Source spoke of Reichian simplicity without being drawn down too deep into repetitious puerility. Both works are grace-filled with Prelude 3 being slightly more thorny than Caprice.

Lennox Berkeley is a popular composer at the chamber and solo level. For me, his music became rather grey in his later years. There is a vibrancy and danger about his early years' music that is well worth following up. His Nocturne (brooding with a Rubbra-like climactic release and still unrecorded but memorably broadcast in a performance by the BBCSO conducted by Vernon Handley in 1977) as well as his Overture, Mont Juic dances (with Britten and recorded on Lyrita SRCD226) and Cello Concerto are works of a more highly coloured and engaging tack. The Sonatine, originally for recorder, is Frenchified (Berkeley was a friend of Poulenc), compact and flighty. It compares favourably with the terse Winter Music of Richard Rodney Bennett. Winter Music is barbed and brambly in the mood of his Third Symphony and Violin Concerto. The piano part is stop-start, all-purpose modernism though never totally losing the melodic track. The flute - the singer - naturally follows a more engaging line but this remains a piece to take to only after repeated listenings - nothing amiss with that but just be warned this is not the Bennett of the recent Chandos film music set.

William Mathias is close to being a popular composer and I suppose that this is, in many minds, subliminally legitimised by his death eight or so years ago. My first contact with his music was of a BBC broadcast of the premiere of his celebratory anthology cantata This Worldes Joie into which he threw a massive orchestra, soloists, choirs of children and grown-ups as well as his own brand of highly-spiced percussion dotted and richly rhythmic tonality. How fortunate that Lyrita and Nimbus discs make his music so easily accessible. His trilogy of symphonic movements (perhaps a little like Holmboe in this): Helios, Laudi and Vistas are easily to be had on disc. I doubt that he will be easily forgotten or that anyone would want to forget such a creative imagination. His balm-filled Sonatina was originally from 1953 and then revised for a fresh premiere with William Bennett in 1986. It is subtle, fragrant, rest-filled and divertingly playful. Balm after the Bennett; balm before the late 1970s Maxwell Davies. Max's Kestrel (sadly another misprint in the booklet to match the insistence on 'Matthias' instead of the correct 'Mathias') was inspired by Peat Cutting a poem by George Mackay Brown. In it the Kestrel, lord of the peat bog, wheels high above the cutters leaning on their tuskars (peat cutting implements). Another Orcadian work, the music is virtuosic and apparently based on material from Max's First Symphony. You may well recall the First Symphony as a massive work memorably recorded at the time by Decca Headline. It is a startlingly Sibelian piece though no mere pushover - for if it is Sibelian it is the Sibelius of the Fourth Symphony and that through a carbonised mirror - emphatically not of Karelia. The movements of this piece were written between the movements of the symphony.

We know we are back in tonal hands with York Bowen. He is a notable romantic from the Royal Academy displaying Corder's rhapsodic Tchaikovskian line rather than the Brahmsian models of Stanford and Parry (from the Royal College). A contemporary of Bax, another RAM student, he lived until 1961 (not 1969 as the BML's notes consistently and wrongly insist) surviving Bax by eight years. By that time however he felt even more of an anachronism with his music needing special pleading and relying on birthdays and anniversaries for attention from the BBC. A Lyrita mono LP of the elderly composer playing a selection of his piano music was due to Richard Itter's foresight and is very much the exception. Bowen, however, had one signal advantage over Bax in terms of exposure among musicians and that is the great flood of accessible music he produced for piano and for various duos. This latter factor kept his music in use by musicians and in recital programmes. The fluent Flute Sonata is an example. The notes are at fault in not mentioning that there are four (not three) piano concertos - the last dating from the 1930s and being a large-scale work of an ambition and, up to a point, a consummation that is faithful to Rachmaninov as were the 1930s and 1940s piano concertos of Reginald Sacheverell Coke. The sonata was written in 1946 for Gareth Morris. It is lovingly turned by Sarah Brooke who is attentive and sensitive throughout this recital. The Sonata is somewhat in the Baxian track with the piano part recalling Sergei (R not P). It is a big piece - no mere bon-bouche. This is the longest work on the disc at 18 minutes and it is also the one in which the composer avoids any suggestion of responding to the flute as an exhortation to perfumery. This might easily have served as a violin sonata. There is a piacevole middle movement and a cheerful finale with sufficient gravity that it counterbalances the big first movement which is twice as long. If you needed to pick and choose between this version and the Kenneth Smith version on ASV CDDCA862 you would need to choose on basis of the coupling. The recording is clarity itself preserving a fruity tone.

Peter McGarr wrote his sun-slowed piece for the two soloists on this disc. Like the Maxwell Davies it is prompted by poetry - this time Philip (proof-reading at fault in the 'Phillip' in the notes) Larkin's 'Love Songs in Age'. While modern (1999) this piece which is the second longest on the disc (in ten sections not separately tracked) is sentimental and a slow blooming delight - easy to appreciate rather like a cross between the vernal works of Nino Rota (the slow movements) and Samuel Barber (Knoxville). I loved this piece.

The spelling errors in the otherwise desirable model-clear booklet are aggravating (hyphernated' for heaven's sake!) to pedants like yours truly but don't let that trivial factor detract from the real pleasure to be had from this disc. It is a serious recital and its variety is lovingly advocated by both performers aided by Mike Skeet's airy and juicy recording.

Rob Barnett

UK is £10 incl UK P&P
abroad, the appropriate extra - Please approach Mr Skeet for quote.

Mike Skeet at F.R.C.
44 Challacombe
Milton Keynes MK4 1DP
phone/fax +44 (0)1908 502836


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