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North Star
Huw WATKINS (b.1976)
Three Orations (2003) [12:05]
Diana BURRELL (b.1948)
North Star (2002) [7:06]
James MACMILLAN (b.1959)
Wedding Introit (1983)  [3:00]*
White Note Paraphrase (1994) [2:10]*
Gaudeamus in Loci Pace (1998)[6:07]*
Rhian SAMUEL (b.1944)
Threnody with Fanfares (1999) [7:26]
Ruth BYRCHMORE (b.1966)
Into the Silent Land (1996) [13:43]*
John HAWKINS (b.1949)
Sortie [4:44]
Robin HOLLOWAY (1943)
Canzona and Toccata (2003) [15:01]
Deborah Callard (trumpet), William Whitehead (organ)
Tracks marked* are pieces for solo organ
rec. Douai Abbey, Upper Woolhampton, Berkshire, no date given. Recording published 2006.
DEUX-ELLES DXL 1097 [71:00]

While the combination of trumpet and organ cannot be said to be one of the ‘standard’ musical groupings, it is a pairing which has always intrigued a few composers. Some very interesting music has resulted over the centuries – from the baroque sonatas of Jean Baptiste Loeillet and Giovanni Buonaventura Viviani, and the Chorales of Johan Ludwig Krebs right up to more modern works by such as Naji Hakim, Alan Hovhaness and Petr Eben.

The young English trumpeter Deborah Calland has actively encouraged contemporary composers to write for this combination. Five commissions - she has actually commissioned even more - are recorded here, all being world premiere recordings. They appear alongside some pieces for solo organ, played by William Whitehead.

The Welshman Huw Watkins, who studied composition with Robin Holloway, Alexander Goehr and Julian Anderson, is represented by Three Orations, a nicely made sequence, in which the trumpet is declamatory when in dialogue with the organ. It is seemingly more inward-directed in short unaccompanied passages between the ‘orations’, so that one has a sense of the instrument in, as it were, both ‘public’ and ‘private’ spheres. There are passages which sound as though they are indebted to the traditions of the jazz trumpet and the whole has a quiet, slightly understated power.

In Diana Burrell’s North Star there are many striking dynamic contrasts, the writing for organ perhaps being more individual than that for the trumpet, though the later stages of the piece create a very effective dialogue between the two instruments. Diana Burrell’s music is never less than interesting, but I am not sure that I would regard this as one of her very best pieces.

Another Welsh representative, Rhian Samuel is, at present, Professor of Music at the City University in London. Readers will perhaps remember her excellent sequence Tirluniau, which was premiered at the Proms in 2000, with Tadaaki Otaka conducting the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. Her Threnody with Fanfares explores the oxymoronic implications of its title. Samuel speaks of the piece being built around “two completely opposed motives: the lament or sigh and the royal fanfare”. The fanfare’s impersonal grandeur is counterpoised by the sense of personal loss, echoes of the last post being heard more than once. An interesting and rewarding piece.

John Hawkins, who studied with Malcolm Williamson and Elizabeth Lutyens, contributes ‘Sortie’, something of a showpiece for both instrumentalists. Several of the various associations of its title – a sally made by a besieged army, an operational flight by a military aircraft – seem to be reflected in its idioms and musical imagery.

Robin Holloway’s Canzona and Toccata rework music which began life as sonata for solo trumpet and then had a second existence as a piece for two trumpets. As these origins may perhaps imply, the trumpet dominates and the organ largely has a role as accompanist. There is a good deal of colourful writing for the trumpet, and Deborah Calland makes the most of it, with some richly expressive playing.

Of James MacMillan’s three works for solo organ included here, the first two were both written for weddings. The Wedding Introit is pleasant, but relatively slight; there is a good deal more substance in White Note Paraphrase and Gaudeamus in Loci Pace, in both of which plainchant melodies are manipulated interestingly. Gaudeamus in Loci Pace closes with some particularly attractive bird-like twitterings.

Into the Silent Land was written for the organ of Westminster Cathedral and was premiered there by Colm Carey in July 1996. Its title is a quotation from Christina Rossetti’s sonnet ‘Remember’ and the emotional tone of the piece has much in common with the sadness of Rossetti’s poem and its concern with the permeable boundary between the lands of the living and the dead which is memory. Into the Silent Land is a successful and subtle piece.

All in all, a rewarding and stimulating collection of contemporary British music which makes a very worthwhile contribution to the trumpet-and-organ genre. The playing throughout is impeccable and persuasive and the recorded sound is excellent.

Glyn Pursglove




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