> HOYLAND In Transit, Vixen NMCD072 [CT]: Classical Reviews- April2002 MusicWeb(UK)






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Vic HOYLAND (b.1945)
In Transit (1987)
Vixen (1996)

BBC Symphony Orchestra - Martyn Brabbins
Recorded at BBC Studio 1, Maida Vale, London April 2000 DDD
NMC NMCD072 [52:44]


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Since the early 1970s Vic Hoyland has slowly been producing a catalogue of works that are as striking in their originality and substance as anything written by a British composer of the 1940s' generation. In some ways he has done this quietly, perhaps without the public profile of certain of his contemporaries. He is also not overly prolific by some standards but gives the impression of a fastidious craftsman, a characteristic that he carries over into his other persona as an influential teacher, having been resident at Birmingham University since the early 1980s.

It was some years before Hoyland turned to orchestral music, with most of his early works employing voices in some shape or form including EM of 1971 for twenty-four voices, ES (1971) for instrumental ensemble and voices and Jeux-Thème of 1972 for mezzo-soprano and chamber ensemble. There are also a number of music-theatre works that demonstrate the composerís strong interest and reputation in this field, having been co-director of the ensemble Northern Music Theatre along with fellow composer David Sawer. The mid-1980s onwards however saw Hoyland veer towards instrumental music as a means of demonstrating a greater interest in an abstract musical language of which the two works recorded here, together with the Chamber Concerto of 1993 are notable examples.

What impresses immediately in both of these works is the clarity of Hoylandís compositional thought. Although the language is in many ways uncompromisingly tough, there is an audible architectural structure evident in both Vixen and In Transit that surfaces through a strong sense of melody combined with the use of binding rhythmic structures that although often complex, return regularly as points of reference. As James Wishart points out in his note on In Transit, the kind of melody Hoyland favours, although angular and highly chromatic in nature, is "neither overtly tonal nor clearly atonal" meaning that the listener will often be able to readily latch onto a melodic fragment as it surfaces through the background detail of the music. It can be no coincidence that one of Hoylandís early interests was architecture. Indeed, it was the intricate patterns in the architecture of the Centre for the Arab World in Paris that proved to be one of the major influences in the composition of Vixen. This, Hoyland combines with an interest in the mathematical writings of Avicenna, an eleventh century Persian scholar whose work included reference to music but more specifically to rhythm and rhythmic cycles. Finally, Vixen acknowledges a link to Hoylandís earlier work for ensemble, Fox, written in 1983, and further develops some of the processes first used in that work. Written in response to a BBC commission for the 1997 Cheltenham Festival, Vixen is a major score in every sense of the word, cast in five movements and spanning thirty-five minutes. Contemporary works on this kind of scale can often present problems, yet there are few recent major British scores that have impressed me as much as Vixen in their sense of cogency. It is not just Hoylandís use of melody that creates this cogency, but a whole range of gestural motifs, huge brass chords often reminiscent of Messiaen, explosive outbursts of flutter tonguing and a powerful feeling of inner drama, perhaps stemming from the composerís interest in the theatrical elements of music. There are also passages of luminous beauty in which Hoyland will magically float a melody through the textures, the slow fourth movement being a fine example, hauntingly memorable in its subtly colour washed orchestration. In this respect the closing paragraphs of the work, inspired by late afternoon bells tolling across Lake Como and the surrounding mountains and captured by harps and percussion over a peaceful string chord, are wonderfully evocative.

The origins of In Transit lay in a proposed percussion concerto that failed to materialise. Hoylandís original conception of using five percussionists deployed antiphonally to left, right and centre remained, whilst also utilising two orchestras placed to either side with one centrally placed percussionist whose function is to "focus" the spatially orientated material of the orchestras and other percussionists. In this way the material can often be "in transit" between the two orchestras. On another level Hoyland cites a play on words where the mechanistic nature of much of the material can be seen to represent intransigence, "where obsessive reiterations and figurations occupy the foreground". The spatial element of the work is captured supremely well in this recording but it is the awesome cumulative power Hoyland generates that keeps one truly riveted. As in Vixen, there are moments of calm serenity, in particular three clear "points of repose" marked by solos for a pair of flutes, solo flute and cor anglais respectively, each over string chords, that once again serve as points of reference in the structural framework. As in Vixen melody plays a major part and it is the ever-recurring melody that lies at the core of the piece that ultimately drives it to a powerfully charged conclusion.

The BBC Symphony Orchestra are without question masters of this repertoire and together with a conductor as tuned into the music as Martyn Brabbins, combine to create a formidable force. The resulting performances demonstrate both authority and virtuosity in abundance. A word also for the booklet notes by Roger Marsh and James Wishart, both of whom contribute invaluable biographical and musicological essays on the composer and his music which I would strongly recommend reading before listening. This is music that deserves to be represented on disc and credit is once again due to Colin Matthews and NMC for bringing it to life.

Christopher Thomas


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