Aureole etc.

Golden Age singers

Nimbus on-line

Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Ian LAWSON (b. 1955)
Celtic Fanfares 1-4 (1988-2000) [31.28]
Ghost Train (1992) [11.06]
Ben HENEGHAN (b.1957)

House at the North Pole [10.59]
Walking the Wild Rhondda [13.39]
Heneghan & Lawson Virtual Orchestra
rec. Hollyfield Studio, Jan-Dec 2001, Oct 2002; DDD
CHANDOS CHAN 10051 [67.55]


Crotchet   AmazonUK   AmazonUS


Ben Heneghan and Ian Lawson have been working as a composer partnership since 1980. You will have heard their music for various television programmes. Perhaps the most famous is the catchy music for the children's animation Fireman Sam (known as Sam Smalaidh, in Gaelic). Here they each present their own music; none of this is collegiate except in the execution. The execution is what marks this CD out as unusual. Instead of an orchestra of musicians re-creating these pieces from a score with a conductor the performance is computer created by the two composers. This explains the ‘virtual’ orchestra reference. More of that later. Now to the music.

Lawson's Four Celtic Fanfares are not in the English brass tradition of Bliss and Elgar although they are certainly celebratory in character. The first brims with fiercely flowing, indefatigable exuberance - part Tippett; part Nyman. The second has a brassy magnificence and in its appealing melodic content there is a touch of John Barry. The third seems to inhabit Copland's 'tender land'. The piece yawns and stretches into a harmonically crunching climax. The skipping motoric power of the final fanfare reminds me of William Mathias (in the Dance Overture and the praising sections of Lux Aeterna and This Worldes Joie). It dissolves into a sky darkened by rain-heavy clouds which finally burst into four dactyls of lightning.

Ghost Train lacks the urgent life of the Fanfares but is more moody. The train in question emerges out of a slow, densely atonal, threnody. It gathers momentum and Arnoldian colour along the way. At 7.03 a wailing train horn is heard.

The Lawson pieces are instantly accessible to the listener without being at all facile. The two pieces by Ben Heneghan are somehow tougher. The House At The North Pole is colourful and attractive - a playful phantasmagoria. The Rhondda piece (which gives its name to the album) is named after Joseph Biddulph’s book of the same name. This is highly atmospheric writing which I sense may reap longer term rewards from repeat listenings. At this stage all I can do is record some impressions: the music proceeds warily, passes through assertive episodes. The sound of pianos trilling away is evocative of wheeling birds breasting the updrafts from hillsides strewn with terraced houses, colliery spew, conifers and church halls. In a strange way this mood picture belongs in the same company as Maurice Johnstone’s Tarn Howes, Arnold’s Third Cornish Dance and the Manchester Road section of Hadley’s The Hills.

Chandos have taken a gamble by being the first major label to issue recordings using a ‘virtual’ orchestra. This simulacrum of an orchestra is computer synthesised from samples of actual instrument sounds. The technique has been used widely by composers wanting to showcase their own writings but this has largely been as a promotional tool. Chandos have backed these two composers with a commercial release of music rendered on what amounts to a robot orchestra. The sounds are idiosyncratic and by no means completely natural. Strings and woodwind can still sound synthetic but brass textures are quite believable. However the results are listenable and there is much enjoyment to be taken from these recordings. Should orchestras look to their laurels? Not just yet ... but in five years' time ...?

Back to the music … Once you have surmounted any prejudices against synthesised orchestral sounds you will instantly relate to Lawson’s rhythmic and melodic power and Heneghan’s way with atmospheric sound-painting.
Rob Barnett


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