THE KESTREL PACED ROUND THE SUN
Edward MCGUIRE Caprice (1990s)
Edward MCGUIRE Prelude 3 (1985)
Lennox BERKELEY Sonatine (1939)
Richard Rodney BENNETT Winter Music (1960)
William MATHIAS Sonatina (1953)
Peter MAXWELL DAVIES Kestrel Paced Around the Sun
Edwin YORK BOWEN Sonata (1946)
Peter MCGARR Something Lost (1999)
Elizabeth Burley (piano)
rec 1997, Rosslyn Hill Chapel,
BRITISH MUSIC LABEL BML 032 [70.29]
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
(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
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.
UK is £10 incl UK P&P
abroad, the appropriate extra - Please approach Mr Skeet for quote.
Mike Skeet at F.R.C.
Milton Keynes MK4 1DP
phone/fax +44 (0)1908 502836