excellent Ancora disc originally appeared on the Continuum
label in 1990. It was certainly a major step forward in establishing
Bainbridge as an important composer and its reappearance
is to be welcomed.
most substantial work on the disc is the 27-minute Viola
Concerto, composed between April and August 1976 to a
commission by Walter Trampler, to whom the work is dedicated ‘in
admiration’. It was he who gave the premiere at Manchester’s
Free Trade Hall in 1978 with Tilson Thomas and the London
Sinfonietta, and their playing on this disc is of exceptional
quality. One can hear why Bainbridge was taken with Trampler’s
playing. From the outset his tone and technical assurance
is phenomenal, even in the face of the many hurdles Bainbridge
throws at the soloist. The plangent minor seconds that permeate
the first movement shift almost imperceptibly as soloist
and chamber orchestra elaborate their material, sometimes
overlapping, sometimes fully independent but always moving
forward in a continuous line of development. The central
climactic chords shudder on harp, strings and pitched percussion
while the viola sings its mournful song, a memorable moment.
The second movement is more reflective, suiting the soloist’s
timbre perfectly. I particularly like Bainbridge’s introduction
of two off-stage violas who play little melodic and harmonic
games with the soloist and members of the orchestra. It is
a brooding, intense and powerful work.
for Double Orchestra strikes me as fully in line with
other great English works that exploit the varying spatial
effects that a split ensemble can bring, especially in
skilful hands. It is divided into three movements that
play without a break. The first movement exploits the harmonic
relationships between E flat at the start and the B flat
climax later on. The power and momentum is generated by
intense rhythmic undercurrents that bring to mind the American
minimalists, something the composer is happy to acknowledge.
The work has sharp edges, colourful sonorities and is an
altogether more outgoing piece than the Concerto, especially
in this exuberant performance under the composer’s direction.
shortest work, Concertante in Moto Perpetuo, betrays
even more overtly the influence of minimalism and in particular
Steve Reich, whose Six Pianos and Desert Music hover
over the piece. Originally begun as a work for oboe and piano,
Bainbridge extended the structure and enlarged the forces,
transforming the whole into something bigger and more elaborate.
It is effectively a pulsating 8-minute toccata for oboe,
flute, clarinet, horn, piano and string quartet, said by
the composer to be a character study of his energetic two-year-old
daughter Rebecca. Gareth Hulse was the original inspiration
but here the formidable oboe duties fall to the virtuosic
Nicholas Daniel, supported with zest and enthusiasm by the
whole is beautifully and atmospherically recorded, and with
notes by the composer and his long time friend and mentor
Oliver Knussen, the authority of the disc is beyond question.
Lovers of the contemporary English music scene cannot afford
to ignore it, and those who are curious or adventurous will
not be disappointed.