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Edwin ROXBURGH (b. 1937)
Saturn (1982) [28:14]
Clarinet Concerto (1996) [31:07]
Linda Merrick (clarinet)
Hertfordshire County Youth Orchestra/Peter Stark (Saturn)
Royal Northern College of Music Symphony Orchestra/Edwin Roxburgh (Concerto)
rec. Haileybury College, Hertford, 6-7 April 2005 (Saturn); RNCM, Manchester, 9 October 2005 (Concerto)
NMC NMC D119 [59:21]


Edwin Roxburgh has had a long career as a composer, oboist and conductor, especially of modern works.

Saturn is one of the best-known of Roxburgh’s works and was important in confirming his stature in the musical world. The work was inspired by seeing pictures of Saturn and its moons sent back to earth by the Voyager II spacecraft. It is a tone poem in the form of variations and in it the composer seeks to portray both the mythological and scientific aspects of Saturn’s major moons ... as they were known at the time. I felt that the mythological elements contained in the names of the moons were not really addressed, but as a “spacescape” and as a set of variations for orchestra and electronics, it’s “a pretty good ride”.

Roxburgh begins Saturn with a general depiction of the moons that immediately puts one in an outer space atmosphere. Dione (track 8) is a fugue for strings and Titan (track 10) is impressive, with an alto flute representing Titan’s own moon. Hyperion (track 11) continues from Titan and is somewhat frightening. Phoebe (track 13) is the last moon, dying away to Saturn itself (track 14). Saturn should be a large-scale summing up of the journey so far, but I found it somewhat disappointing when compared with the moons’ music. The HCYO playing is sometimes scrappy, but powerful and will convince many who would not otherwise listen to this music. Peter Stark conducts somewhat stolidly, but his overall conception of the piece is very strong.

The Clarinet Concerto is a later work than Saturn and a more introspective one. Instead of a series of variations, the Concerto consists of three movements held together motivically. The solo part is taxing, but not conventionally virtuosic and the orchestra is an equal partner with the soloist overall. It was premiered by Gervase de Peyer and the composer at the Three Choirs Festival in Worcester on 21 August 1995. I was present at this concert and found the piece frequently interesting, but weak in terms of construction. The same reservations still apply, I’m afraid, but do not apply to Linda Merrick’s playing, which matches the subtle changes of mood in the piece bar for bar. She is especially impressive in the more restrained parts and those where the soloist has to be part of the orchestra without becoming lost within it. Roxburgh as conductor matches her all throughout and the result is an extremely subtle performance. The Royal Northern College Symphony Orchestra ably keeps up with soloist and conductor.

Overall, a well-performed disc of music that deserves to be better known, although it will appeal to a somewhat limited audience.

William Kreindler

see also Review by Hubert Culot





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