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DUNELM Recordings

Severnside Composers’ Alliance - Inaugural Piano Recital
Geoffrey SELF (b. 1930) Sonatina 1 [6:41]
Ivor GURNEY (1890-1937) Preludes (first set) F #; A minor; D b; D # minor; D. (1921) [8:31]
Jolyon LAYCOCK (b. 1946) L’Abri Pataud [3:40]
Richard BARNARD (b. 1977) On Erin Shore [3:47]
Steven KINGS (b. 1962) Fingers pointing to the Moon [10:33]
Ivor GURNEY (1890-1937) Preludes 2nd set –Fragment; F minor; D; C; F # [4:19]
Susan COPPARD (b. 1937) Round and Around (1995} [2:29]
John PITTS (b. 1976) Aire 1; Fantasy 1; Fantasy 5. [9:41]
James PATTEN (b. 1936) Nocturne 3; Nocturne 4. [8:57]
Sulyen CARADON (b. 1942) Dorian Dirge [2:12]
Ivor GURNEY (1890-1937 ) Preludes 3rd set C minor; F sharp (unfinished). (1924) [4:16]
Raymond WARREN (b. 1928) Monody; Chaconne. [12:04]
Peter Jacobs (piano)
Recorded on 23rd February 2005 Venue unknown.
Dates of compositions given where known/indicated.
DUNELM DRDO238 [78.22]

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This is an interesting programme although I must be honest and state straightaway that the most impressive part of this CD is the recording of the 11 Preludes by Ivor Gurney. Well at least ten preludes – the eleventh is a ‘fragment.’

The rest of the CD consists of a variety of adventures by composers who are alive and well and working in the ambit of the River Severn. The youngest of these composers is just nudging thirty whilst the eldest is well past his three score and ten.

Geoffrey Self is the only one of these Severnside Composers of whom I had heard before reviewing this CD. In the programme notes he claims that the Sonatina 1 is ‘light music.’ Perhaps he and I have different concepts of what light music is. This is certainly not Eric Coates or Robert Farnon – it is much more like Walter Leigh’s Concertino for Harpsichord and Strings – a point noted by Colin Scott-Sutherland in his review on these pages. This is an extremely attractive work that deserves its place in the repertoire. I especially liked the slow Elegy – which to me is not 'light’ but actually ‘reflective’; apart from the Gurney Preludes, the best thing on this CD!

Jolyon Laycock studied with Cornelius Cardrew and Roger Smalley in the 1970s. I cannot say that the prelude L’Abri Pataud impresses me; it seems to ramble without coming to any conclusion.

Richard Barnard is the youngest composer represented. Amongst other things he teaches composition at Bristol Cathedral School and plays in a band called ‘Goldfunk’. The piece presented here is the slightly Debussy-esque ‘On Erin’s Shore’. The programme notes state that the tune is ‘hidden between various layers of melody and pulse, creating a fragmentary, brittle and dream-like atmosphere’. Who knows? However it is a nice piece that does not deserve to be lost in the mists of time. Stephen Kings’ ‘Fingers Pointing to the Moon’ is a very different proposition. The work has a somewhat ambitious aim – to get to grips with mankind’s futile attempts to describe God. It is the longest single piece on the CD – however I am not sure it is the best. It all sounds a little contrived and what it gains in its tight compositional structure it loses in its lack of lyricism; very much like music I had to listen to in cartloads back in the seventies.

Susan Coppard’s work is described by the composer herself as ‘Bach in an Israeli Madhouse’. It is part hora, apparently and part fugue - it is hardly a masterpiece and I feel that it lives up to its origins as a compositional exercise at Canford! And a hora is a traditional round dance from Romania or Israel, in case anyone was wondering. Why a ‘madhouse?’ I do not know – I can only assume that it is some kind of political point that should have been unpacked in the programme notes.

John Pitts’ music reminds me of Herbert Howells’ Lambert’s Clavichord; not in idiom so much as his ‘picking up’ an older style of keyboard composition and re-presenting it for our times. One ‘Aire’ and two ‘Fantasys’ are given here. The former relying on ‘tune’ whilst the latter owes more to ‘pattern’. Fantasy 5 is based on a prelude by Bach. This is lovely music to listen to and shows a deep absorption of earlier styles but with a large degree of originality added for good measure.

Apparently James Patten studied with Richard Arnell. I am not sure that the wisdom and style of this composer has rubbed off on the pupil – at least as far as these works are concerned. I cannot for the life of me understand why the pieces have been called Nocturnes. Nocturne No.3 is an exploration into the effects of ‘overtone – produced by striking a low note while holding others silently’. No.4 is a rumination on the progress of two sets of chords made up of 4ths. This one is certainly rather lovely. But the first did not move me in the least. Curiously, the 3rd Nocturne opens with six seconds of silence – how do I know when it has started and/or when to begin counting?

The Dorian Dirge by Sulyen Caradon (real name Richard Carder) is just that – a bit like chewing toffee. The interest, supposedly is in the bass, In spite of the fact that it was written for a musician who died in tragic circumstances, it fails do anything for me other than be thankful Ivor Gurney’s beautiful Prelude in C minor is next in the batting order.

Raymond Warren’s contribution is unfortunate. There are only two movements of a three movement Sonata presented here. Whatever happened to the middle movement? I am sure it has been omitted for space reasons. But I am afraid I would have dumped one or two (or more) of the other works on this CD to give Mr Warren full credit. The Sonata is hardly new; it was composed for the 1977 Cardiff Festival. But it is full of interest and colour and vitality – even if the invention fails a little from time to time.

I am not convinced that Peter Jacob was right in scattering the Gurney Preludes throughout the programmes. It is to these works that I will turn again and again – so I will have to programme my CD player to give them to me in order!

This is not the time to rehearse the tragic life of Ivor Gurney, however it is important to recall that Gurney is best remembered for his songs and his poetry rather than his instrumental music or even his lost(?) Symphony. Gurney produced many works for chamber groups and instrumentalists but apparently did not have a great mastery of ‘sonata’ form and the music tended to ‘lose direction.’ What we have in these Preludes is a fine example of his skill at writing for the piano – which of course is always self evident in the accompaniment to his songs. These are typical examples of post-Great War ‘Georgian’ music. However they are not redolent of Englishry or pastoralism. It is not easy to say that these works sound like this or that composer. If I had to plump for a name to give the potential listener some kind of clue it would have to be York Bowen; I suppose I make this comparison more to emphasise the European rather than the English dimension of these Preludes.

Peter Jacob has provided the last few bars to the second prelude of the third set, as Gurney had left it incomplete at the time of his death. The music was derived from the composer’s song Heart’s Pain.

Generally speaking this is a nice CD to have. In some ways the music is variable. The playing however is committed and the sound quality is excellent.

As I have indicated, the main event is the sequence of Gurney Preludes. However it is always interesting to hear works from composers who are less often heard than perhaps they deserve. Let us hope that this will not be a one-off CD from the Severnside Composer’s Alliance and that we will be hearing more from (some) of these composers.

Aside from the Gurney the highlights for me are the Self, the Warren and the Pitts!

John France

see also review by Colin Scott Sutherland

I apologise for omitting the venue and thank John for deawing this to my attention. It will be added to the booklet immediately.
The recital was "Live" and recorded in The Michael Tippett Centre, Bath Spa University College, Newton Park, near Bath, Avon.

Regarding Raymond Warren's contribution about which John France opines, about the middle movemen, that "I am sure it has been omitted for space reasons." This is not so! The recital was recorded in its entireity and nothing was omitted. Richard Carder, who was the "pomoter/organiser" might be able to supply the answer. [possibly more later]

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