> British Concertos for Orchestra CLA|SSCD384 [HC]: Classical Reviews- May2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Edward GREGSON (born 1945)
Contrasts: A Concerto for Orchestra (1983)
(born 1929)
Concerto for Orchestra Op.127 (1986)
(born 1939)
Concerto for Orchestra (1982)
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra; Douglas Bostock
Recorded: Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool, May 2001



These pieces were all written during the early 1980s. They are all, in one way or another, works of orchestral display by three composers whose orchestral mastery is well known, although each of them has his own personal approach to the form.

Edward Gregson’s Contrasts was written for the National Centre for Orchestral Studies and originally bore the title Greenwich Dances. The piece was slightly revised some time later with a change of title (Contrasts actually refers to the variation-based structure of the piece). Further revisions were made for the present recording. It is in three substantial movements of which the central Elegy is the emotional heart, as the composer rightly puts it. The first movement, Intrada, opens with a bold four-note motto which will reappear several times later and, quite logically, will be forcefully restated at the end of the third movement, Toccata. This is a magnificent, colourful work full of invention in which Gregson’s orchestral flair is evident from first to last.

Alun Hoddinott’s Concerto for Orchestra Op.127 (1986) is full of the composer’s fingerprints including bold angular themes in the outer movements. There is beautifully atmospheric night music in the slow movement. Deft and sparing use is made of the very large percussion section including a number of unusual instruments. Remarkable orchestral mastery is employed here. In the interview with Lewis Foreman [track 16], Hoddinott tells us that the opening rhythmic motif was suggested to him by the cooing of a pair of doves heard in his garden. This rhythmic phrase and parts of the opening themes are restated, sometimes with variations, all through the piece. This enhances the coherence of the material.

John McCabe’s Concerto for Orchestra (1982) is a quite substantial piece of music of symphonic proportions and argument. To a certain extent, this is the most structurally complex, intricately developed piece here. The composer describes its structure as an enlarged passacaglia. It opens with bright, jubilant fanfares leading into a long Adagio. This is followed by several shorter "character" pieces, three of which obliquely refer to Schumann’s Faschingsschwank aus Wien. The large-scale, multi-section Finale builds towards mighty sound waves slowly fading into an ostinato (referred to by the composer as "tape-loop") which lightly tiptoes away. A great piece by all counts, and a worthy companion to McCabe’s symphonies.

The last track is of an interview of the three composers by Lewis Foreman. Significantly enough, all three insist on the communicative qualities of their music and of music in general.

These three substantial, superbly written works here receiving wonderful, dedicated performances, DO communicate, and each of them represents its composer at his very best. Not to be missed.

Hubert Culot

The British Symphonic Collection

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