Aureole etc.




Golden Age singers

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Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Buxton ORR (1924-97)
Tournament for 10 Piece Brass Ensemble (1985)
Trombone Concerto (1971)
Narration for Symphonic Wind Orchestra (1993)
A Caledonian Suite (1980)
Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama Wind Orchestra and Academy Brass/Bryan Allen and Nigel Boddice
Rec. 2002. DDD
DOYEN DOYCD118 [68:58]



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SPS, 1 Tiverton St, London SE1 6NT. Phone 020 7367 6570; fax: 020 7367 6589. dominique.willmore@sp-s.co.uk

Born in Glasgow, Buxton Orr graduated in medicine and physiology before enrolling as a student at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in the early fifties, joining the composition classes of Benjamin Frankel. It was no surprise that he had originally chosen a career as a doctor given that his father and uncle had both been in the medical profession before him. Oddly enough this came about because Orr’s grandfather, who had been a well known member of the Scottish Orchestra for many years, felt strongly that his two sons should pursue a more "respectable" career than music.

Like a number of other composers of his generation, amongst them his teacher Frankel and Malcolm Arnold, Orr found early success in the field of film music. He wrote scores for a number of Boris Karloff horror movies, together with the successful Suddenly Last Summer and numerous stage productions. Also like a good number of his contemporaries, his music was to enter a period of decline from which it was to struggle to recover. Although Orr flirted with his own derivation of twelve-tone technique, his music was never to make a full-scale departure into atonality. As a consequence he was to be largely castigated amongst the critics and musical powers-that-be of his day.

That his music has a firm foot in tonality is clearly demonstrated by the works on this disc, as different in character as they are. Tournament and Narration are the two works heard in their original scoring, whilst the Trombone Concerto was originally written with brass band accompaniment as opposed to the later wind band version heard here. A Caledonian Suite was again initially written for full brass band, here given in its subsequent scoring for symphonic brass.

Tournament is a quite literal musical depiction of a jousting tournament, complete with resplendent opening fanfares. These are followed by a dance for the full company and the introduction of the ladies for whom the various competitors will engage in combat. In the jousting event itself the music becomes ever more elaborately ornamented, reaching a considerable degree of sophistication. The music is highly colourful, imaginative and skilfully scored in its instrumental characterisation. Despite its overall spirit of gallantry it features a particularly poignant central slow movement, My Lady Lulworth’s Lament. Royal Scottish Academy Brass give a performance of aplomb equalled in the less challenging, A Caledonian Suite. The Suite is more commonly heard in its brass band version where its attractive melodic spirit has made it a popular choice of contest test-piece on a number of occasions. The work harks back to Orr’s Scottish roots, being cast in four brief movements each of which carries an unmistakeably Celtic flavour.

On a dramatic level the Trombone Concerto and Narration carry the greater weight and are more ambitious in conception. Narration started life as the principal material for a projected opera based on a classic black comedy. The composer was unwilling to reveal the identity of the comedy, preferring listeners to find their own story and chief protagonists in what amounts to a musical précis of the operatic plot and characters. It is worth listening to the piece a couple of times to allow the narrative element to come fully into focus. The work is rarely without incident and the anonymous characterisations in the music, often portrayed by particular instruments, for instance a whinging saxophone [4:47], are often highly effective.

The Trombone Concerto is given a fine performance by Ian Bousfield who, at the time the booklet notes were written, was principal trombone with the London Symphony Orchestra, since having taken over the principal chair at the Vienna Philharmonic. Bousfield’s rich, warm sound is well suited to the more lyrical passages in particular. This is appropriate given that the overall mood of the work, whilst not without bravado, is more contemplative than one could possibly expect of a concerto for this instrument. The opening Andante con moto is a case in point although the music passes through passages both lighter and agitated as the movement progresses. The central Lento is really a passacaglia, a haunting, slowly unfolding chordal processional over which Orr weaves a beautifully expressive trombone line of gradually increasing ornamentation. A central cadenza is reached following which the final Alla Marcia commences without a break, ultimately leading to a conclusion of exuberant affirmation.

It is a shame that Doyen have not paid greater attention to the booklet which reproduces the composer’s own notes on Tournament and Narration but which completely fails to give any information on the Trombone Concerto or A Caledonian Suite. Without dates for the works it is also difficult for the listener to put the pieces into any form of chronological context. In this respect I would recommend taking a look at Gary Higginson’s informative and useful biography on Orr to be found in the Musicweb composer profile pages, the biography also providing a comprehensive work list for the composer.

That said, with so little of Orr’s music having been committed to disc we should be grateful to Doyen for treading where few others (some light pieces including a transcription of the Celtic Suite on ASV, Piano Trios on Marco Polo 8.223842 and John Gay Suite on Polyphonic QP RM 127 D) have gone before. It is to be hoped that there is yet another enterprising label out there willing to take up the challenge of promoting a composer who deserves to be better represented.

Christopher Thomas

Buxton Orr website



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