As with artists and
painters, the banding together of a
group of creative minds, linked in spirit
rather than expression, has some justification,
even if only to maintain the philosophy
of "united we stand……"
Here the unifying element
is the proximity of the river Severn
which brings together on its banks,
this diversity of composers ranging
from the Georgian Ivor Gurney, who died
in 1937, to the youngest of the set,
the 28 year old Richard Barnard.
The honours are in
one sense equally divided – with a dozen
or so compositions by contemporary utterance
sharing the space, though not the time,
with around a dozen pieces by Gurney.
Nevertheless it is
difficult to equate the philosophy of
Gurney (who wrote "Autumn is the
strongest in memory (1) of all the seasons.
To think of Autumn is to be smitten
through most powerfully by an F sharp
minor chord that stops the breath and
wrings heart with unmeasurable power………(2))
with the trenchant armoury of contemporary
sounds from younger men whose tutelage
included such thinkers as Cardew, Keller
Yet Peter Jacobs is
to be congratulated for the careful
programming – for somehow or another
he has inserted the Gurney Preludes
into the recital so that the shock of
transition is less that one might have
expected. Especially is this true of
the ‘Fragment’ which, though Brahmsian,
sounds quite modern – and Jolyon Laycock’s
"L’Abri Pataud" which, (tho’
inspired by a French shrine) seems to
echo the meanderings of the river –
takes over from the D major Prelude
without jarring – just as does the unfinished
F sharp Prelude (almost a first try
at the D flat) (that dedicated to Mrs
Chapman and probably the finest of all
the Preludes) moves to the opening of
Raymond Warren’s "Monody".
These beautiful and
evocative pieces of Gurney are nevertheless
strange bedfellows for the other pieces
on the disc. Gurney’s piano solo piano
writing has been dismissed as feeble
by the received opinion of the 1960s/1970s
by those insensitive to the powerful
spiritual impulses that affected the
creative output of post-Great War energies
in this country pieces are not simply
delicate pastorals but have a harrowing
nostalgia nowhere more moving than in
the aforementioned D flat Prelude (the
4th bar of which seems to
me the essence of the Georgian temper.)
Necessarily at odds with this, the philosophy
of the younger men, far removed despite
a second World Conflict from that of
Gurney, has conflict, but little darkness.
The opening of the
Sonatina of Geoffrey Self is cheerfully
energetic – it reminded me of Walter
Leigh, and curiously was originally
conceived in terms of the clavichord.
The unassuming slow movement with its
Delian moments is followed by an attractive
An Irish folksong,
its opening bars suggestive of pibroch,
is framed by "various layers of
melody" and some menacing percussive
interjections in Richard Barnard’s piece.
This is followed by a set of six short
pieces by Steven |Kings, organised around
the curious idea of God being represented
by ‘pointing fingers trying to reach
the moon’ – ending in a seventh slow
set of variations, the obscure tonality
and spacious registration suitably lunar.
Susan Coppard’s child-like
‘Round and around’ she describes, aptly,
as "Bach in an Israeli madhouse"
By contrast John Pitts’ selection from
his decorative Aires and Fantasies is
more companionable – the 2nd
Fantasy (his No 5) based enigmatically
on a Bach Prelude, with some rich and
evocative chords. I would have liked
to hear more of this music. The hesitation
before the Nocturne by James Patten
is, we are told part of the piece –
six seconds of silence which, abruptly
broken, explores somewhat abrasively
the static harmonic effects of overtones
above a single bass note - ending, or
so it seems, with the six seconds silence
repeated? The second Nocturne here (his
No 4) is more conventional with repeated
atmospheric chords broken only briefly.
How it relates structurally (as we are
told) to a Becket stage direction is
neither explained nor immediately apparent.
The Dorian Dirge by
Sulyen Caradon was written after the
death of a friend and is solemnly expressive.
This is followed by Raymond Warren’s
almost birdsong-like first movement
of a Piano Sonata – and the Chaconne
being the last movement. It seems a
pity that the intervening movement(s)
were omitted, as this is attractive
The CD is by way of
an inaugural recital (23.2.05) for the
Severnside Composer’s Alliance which
was formed in 2003. Further information
can be had from their website at www.severnsidecomposers.all.att
– not all of them represented on this
disc. It will be interesting to see
how this project develops.
- see Cardus " the music tells
us only of the bloom that was on the
hour, long ago"
a propos of Delius.
(A Delius Companion John Calder 1976
(2) Gurney goes on
to feel that musical expression is the
only way to convey the ‘Springs of Music’
, "such as the Severn valley- such
as a hedge unclipped covered with hawthorn
mounting over rolling beyond the skylight
of a little gracious hill - the first
breathing of the air of night"
(The Springs of Music – Musical 4terly
july 1922) Poignantly he later wrote
the poem that ends "Do not forget
me quite, O Severn meadows"