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Cecilia MCDOWALL (born 1951)
Arctic Circle (2001)
Eleven (1999)a
Tapsalteerie (1999)
Six Pastiches (1985)a
Three Concert Studies (1994)a
Vespers in Venice (1997)
Seven Impressions (1993)a
Le Temps Viendra (1998)b
Soundtracks (1998)a
Pavane (1999)
Piperís Dream (1997)a
Winter Music (1992)
Emma Williams (flute/piccolo)a; Richard Shaw (piano); Ensemble Lumière (Rosina Alter, bassoon; Fiona Cross, clarinet/bass clarinetb; Julian Faultless, horn; Emma Fielding, oboe/cor anglaisb)
Recorded: Norden Farm Centre for the Arts, Maidenhead, April and October 2001
DEUX-ELLES DXL 1033 [78:11]

 


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.

Hubert Culot

 



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