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
Three Shanties or Paul Patterson’s Comedy for Five
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.