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Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Christopher BALL (born 1936)
The Piper of Dreamsa
Scenes from a Comedy (1990)
Concerto for Oboe and String Orchestra (1995/6)b
Pagan Pipera
Pan Overhearda
Paul Arden-Taylor (recordersa, oboeb); The Adderbury Ensemble; Christopher Ball
Recorded: St Mary’s Church, Adderbury, Oxfordshire, no dates
PAVANE ADW 7404 [67:15]
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Some time ago, I reviewed a selection of British string music (An English Serenade) including a couple of pieces each by Christopher Ball and John Marsh. I ended by asking who these composers were and what their music might be like. Here is part of the answer, at least as far as Christopher Ball is concerned, for there is a whole disc devoted to his music, and, lo! on a Belgian label at that!

The Piper of Dreams, a concerto for recorder and string orchestra, is quite substantial. It was written for a recorder student of the composer’s who had won a competition playing a Vivaldi concerto. Her prize was to play a concerto with a professional orchestra, and the conductor asked for a full-length concerto. Since no such concerto seemed to exist, Ball decided to write one. The title is that of a painting by Canziani. This eventually inspired the final rondo. At that time, the slow movement had already been composed, so that the first movement was written last. The work follows a fairly traditional pattern with a song-like slow movement framed by two quicker ones, the Finale being a dance-like Rondo rounding off this lovely work in high spirits. The music, in turn almost endlessly tuneful and playfully dancing, is redolent of the so-called British Pastoral School, if such there really was, with some Celtic inflections, the sort of things that Moeran might have written. The Piper of Dreams is an attractive and most welcome addition to the repertoire of 20th Century recorder concertos; an accessible and appealing piece of music worthy of comparison with Gordon Jacob’s Suite for Recorder and Strings or the much underrated Recorder Concerto of Malcolm Arnold.

The Concerto for Oboe and Strings, composed between December 1995 and January 1996, is dedicated to Paul Arden-Taylor who gave the first performance in July 1996 with the composer conducting. It is roughly similar to the recorder concerto, with a more obvious pastoral character suggested by the oboe, particularly so in the beautifully lyrical slow movement. This fine work compares well with Vaughan Williams’ Oboe Concerto or Rawsthorne’s early Oboe Concerto.

Scenes from a Comedy, for wind quintet, composed in 1990, was first performed by students from the Trinity College of Music who also gave several performances of it afterwards. Five concise, clearly characterised movements: a sparkling overture, a slow movement, a jaunty march, a slightly ironic Waltz, a love song and a joyful Finale (All’s Well that Ends Well). Malcolm Arnold is brought to mind here, though the composer mentioned Robert Farnon to me. However, this delightful work is a sheer joy throughout, by turns dreamy and pensive, playful and mildly ironic. Above all it is superbly crafted, as well as being highly attractive and entertaining. It should appeal to quintets that relish Arnold’s Three Shanties or Paul Patterson’s Comedy for Five Winds.

Two short studies, respectively for tenor recorder (Pagan Piper) and for alto recorder (Pan overheard) complete this most enjoyable release that will certainly appeal to all those whose respond to the music of Finzi, Moeran, Warlock and Arnold. Happy music making well served by excellent playing by Paul Arden-Taylor, equally at ease when playing either recorder or oboe. Rarely indeed have I heard such seemingly effortless and immaculate recorder playing.

This disc seems to have passed unnoticed and unpublicised at the time of it release a few years ago (I am ashamed to admit that I ignored its existence, though it was released on a Belgian label); but I urge you to look for it, and you will end-up whistling the tunes.

Hubert Culot

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