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Edwin ROXBURGH (b. 1937)
Clarinet Concerto (1994)a [31:07]
Saturn (1982)b [28:14]
Linda Merrick (clarinet)a; RNCM Symphony Orchestraa; Hertfordshire County Youth Orchestrab; Edwin Roxburgha, Peter Starkb
rec. RNCM, Manchester, October 2005 (Clarinet Concerto) and Haileybury College, Hertford, April 2005 (Saturn)
NMC D119 [59:21]

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Roxburgh’s Clarinet Concerto is a substantial work in three movements played without a break. Here the composer attempts “to reflect the wide range of colour, expressive beauty of tone, virtuosity and deep sensitivity of the instrument” (his own words reprinted in the insert notes). He has been fully successful: this beautifully written clarinet concerto exploits the expressive range of the instrument to the full, without making it a mere display of empty virtuosity. The three movements are varied in mood, texture and character, all to pleasing and musically satisfying effect. The music unfolds leisurely, but irrepressibly builds to a mighty climax in the third movement signalled by a series of irregular massive chords leading into an brilliant accompanied cadenza capped by an abrupt conclusion. Listening to music such as this, especially in as fine a performance as this, one cannot but wonder why this splendid work is not heard more often. Roxburgh’s music is clearly modern, but not extravagantly so, and on the whole is accessible. Quoting the composer again, “it is essentially a romantic work ... composed in the belief that it is wholly subjective, like the listener’s response”.

Saturn is another substantial piece, a sort of theme and ten variations for orchestra and live electronics (tape delay, controlled feedback and ring modulation) used discretely but to telling effect. It has nothing to do with Holst’s own vision of Saturn, although the composer admits that he made it “a tribute to Holst ... by basing the harmonic structure on his Saturn chord. No prizes for those who detect this!” It was actually triggered by photographs received from the Voyager II spacecraft during its voyage past Saturn. “I was compelled by the notion that the mythological name of the planet had become a misnomer in view of the incredible beauty and remarkable geometry of the satellites.” Saturn has seventeen satellites, some of which are evoked in the variations that make up Saturn. “The music begins with a representation of the rings and shepherds establishing the harmonic and modal matrix for the free variations that follow”. The last variation - and the longest - functions as a summing-up of the preceding sections. It even includes a forceful cadenza-like episode for percussion and then brings in the whole gamut of orchestra and electronics in a vivid portrait of the planet. This finally chimes away calmly into vast empty spaces. The music is remarkably varied and imaginative, with vivid scoring, discretely enhanced by the live electronics and calling for modern playing techniques such as multiphonics. This should not put anybody off, for the music possesses a formidable expressive strength. This performance by the youngsters of the Hertfordshire County Youth Orchestra is quite simply stunning. These young players play with all their hearts in a complex, challenging and highly rewarding score. In fact, having heard one of their earlier recordings including a splendid performance of Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem as well as another recent score by Nicholas Sackman (Cecilia dances), I was not really surprised by their excellence and commitment, but I am nevertheless impressed.

I had never heard any of Roxburgh’s music before; but I am now really looking forward to hearing more of it. In short, this is a splendid release which will hopefully trigger some interest for his music.

Hubert Culot




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