To the best of my knowledge,
this is the first CD entirely devoted to Cecilia
McDowallís music. This varied and generous
selection includes works for piano, flute
and piano, as well as a wind quintet and a
sextet for piano and wind quintet, most of
which have been written in the 1990s.
The earliest work here is
Six Pastiches for flute and
piano composed in 1985. This set of short
contrasted pieces was written at the request
of the composerís publisher and is obviously
meant for good amateurs though professional
players will enjoy these colourful miniatures
as well. Incidentally, most pieces here are
quite short, as in Seven Impressions
(1993) written for the fairly rare combination
of piccolo and piano. The Three Concert
Studies, for flute and piano, appropriately
focus on particular aspects of flute playing
while avoiding any "trendy gimmicks"
of the modern type such as multiphonics and
the like. The brief central study Tongue
in Cheek is exactly that and really delightful.
Soundtracks (1998) is another
set of short didactic pieces of great charm
and of some mild irony as in Six Pastiches.
Piperís Dream (1997), a ravishingly
nostalgic dream fantasy, has some Scottish
inflections. Eleven (1999) for
flute and piano, a somewhat more serious piece,
was inspired by a trip to Hungary and actually
quotes a folk song collected by Bartók.
There is some discreet playing inside the
piano which thus briefly imitates the sounds
of the cimbalom. (Incidentally, "eleven"
is the Hungarian for "alive".)
The three short piano pieces
included here are colourful, impressionistic
miniatures. Tapsalteerie (Scottish
word for "topsy-turvy", we are told)
is a tribute to the Scottish fiddler James
Scott Skinner whose Cradle Song
is alluded to in the course of the piece,
whereas Vespers in Venice (1997)
inspired by Turnerís Approach to Venice
is appropriately atmospheric and the opening
fanfare of Monteverdiís Vespers
briefly shines through the hazy air. Pavane
(1999), in memory of the composerís godfather,
quotes an old French song used by Tchaikovsky
in his ballet The Sleeping Beauty.
Le Temps Viendra
(1998) is a short trio for oboe, clarinet
and piano in which the wind players are instructed
to change to cor anglais and bass clarinet
respectively when they quote from a song by
Henry VIII, and in which some eerie sounds
are also drawn out of the piano. This beautifully
wrought elegy was inspired by words (the titleís)
inscribed by Anne Boleyn in her Book of
Hours, hence the somewhat ironic allusion
to Henry VIIIís tune.
The wind quintet Winter
Music (1992), written in memory of
the flautist Harold Clarke, the composerís
father, has two lively outer movements framing
a deeply-felt elegy based on the opening song
from Schubertís Winterreise.
The sextet Arctic Circle,
incidentally the most recent and, at 10 minutes,
the longest single item here, draws on legends
associated with the Northern Lights. In some
Scottish legends, the Northern Lights are
called the Nimble Dancers. So the outer
dance-like sections frame a central slow section
inspired by the Finnish legend of the arctic
fox which strikes the snow with its tail,
causing a shower of sparks to leap into the
air. Again, an attractive tone poem in miniature.
This is my first (and hopefully
not the last) encounter with Cecilia McDowallís
music which strikes me as being superbly crafted,
unpretentious but sincere, never outstaying
its welcome and supremely communicative always
in simple, direct terms. This composer has
a remarkable flair for and a sincere liking
of wind instruments, and her music often brings
Poulenc and Damase to mind, and certainly
none the worse for that.
Happy music making of the
highest quality, and I for one really relished
every minute of it. A most welcome novelty
and a very attractive release. Warmly recommended,
and I swear to swallow my cap if you do not
feel much better after listening to it.