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Dunelm Records 2 Park Close Glossop Derbyshire SK13 7RQ

Severnside Composers’ Alliance - Inaugural Piano Recital
Geoffrey SELF Sonatina 1
Ivor GURNEY Preludes (first set) F sharp; A minor; D flat; D sharp minor; D.
Jolyon LAYCOCK L’Abri Pataud
Richard BARNARD On Erin Shore
Steven KINGS Fingers pointing to the Moon
Ivor GURNEY Preludes 2nd set –Fragment; F minor; D flat; C. F sharp.
Susan COPPARD Round and Around
John PITTS Aire 1; Fantasy 1; Fantasy 5.
James PATTEN Nocturne 3; Nocturne 4.
Sulyen CARADON Dorian Dirge
Ivor GURNEY Preludes 3rd set C minor; F sharp (unfinished).
Raymond WARREN Monody; Chaconne.
Peter Jacobs (piano)
Recorded by Jim Pattison
DUNELM DRDO238 [78.22]

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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 and Tippett.

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 Rondo.

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 music.

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.

Colin Scott-Sutherland

  1. 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 p90)

(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"










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