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Chameleon
Robert Sherlaw JOHNSON (1932-2000)

Three Shakespearean Characters (1993)
Robert RAMSKILL (b.1950)

Nocturne (1987)
Chameleon (1981)
John HOWARD (b. 1950)

African Toccata (2002)
Variations for Piano (1983)
David Harold COX (b. 1935)

Tendrilles 15/23/48 (1982)
Julian Hellaby (piano)
Recorded at Vestry Hall, Ealing, June 2000 – June 2002
ASC ASC CS CD55


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If looking for a factor to bind this disc together it could possibly be the City of Coventry. Julian Hellaby is currently Associate Senior Lecturer at Coventry University whilst Robert Ramskill, although born in Leeds, has been a lecturer at Coventry Centre for the Performing Arts (formerly Coventry School of Music) since 1975. In addition Ramskill’s Nocturne was written in 1987 for Eileen Sier, a London-based pianist who was a part-time piano teacher at the school for many years.

The piece that lends its title to the disc, Robert Ramskill’s Chameleon, is also the most substantial of the works at just over twenty-one minutes. Falling naturally into six continuous sections, Ramskill uses each of the sections to explore differing aspects of often-related musical material, hence the title. As he explains in his programme note, the "colour" associated with the chameleon is interpreted in harmonic terms or equally by clearly defining differing registers of the keyboard, the relationships between both being explored in related sections. The shorter of Ramskill’s two works, Nocturne, has its origins in Eileen Sier’s reputation as a Chopin specialist, the composer taking one of Chopin’s favourite forms as a starting point. Florid, dream-like material contrasts with more rigidly organised passages and slower moving chordal progressions in a highly effective and atmospheric evocation of "the darkness, rather than the romance, of night".

Robert Sherlaw Johnson’s Three Shakespearean Characters frames a lengthy central portrait of Hamlet with more fleeting outer character studies of Lady Macbeth and Puck. The strong, gritty opening, depicting the self-assured personality of Lady Macbeth quickly descends into fragmentation as madness envelops her, whilst the possibly overlong portrayal of Hamlet uses transpositions of a twelve-note row to represent his agonising trait of indecision. Quotes from the preceding two movements are treated to mischievous tampering by Puck in the final movement.

David Harold Cox’s Tendrilles 15/23/48 and John Howard’s Variations for Piano demand a little more from the listener in terms of concentration and perseverance although both works will pay dividends upon repeated listening. Howard’s Variations comprise a set of nine variations from which evolves a folk-like melody that reveals itself in its entirety in the final variation. In contrast his shorter African Toccata is something of a showpiece drawing on the composer’s musical response to a visit to the Kruger National Park in South Africa as well as a subconscious reaction to the sounds of African music. Cox’s Tendrilles utilise diverse thematic material given unity and structure by the associations of a series of "pitch centres". The 15/23/48 of the title conceals an alphabetical association, the cipher of which is a six letter word underpinning the overall concept of the work.

Julian Hellaby is articulate and convincing in his performances and is to be congratulated for bringing this unfamiliar yet worthwhile music to disc. The recorded sound is acceptable if not exactly in the demonstration class but certainly does not detract from a recording that offers much to interest.

Christopher Thomas



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Musicweb sells the following labels
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British Music Soc.
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Nimbus
Northern Flowers
Redcliffe
Sheva
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Toccata Classics


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