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Into the Light: Music for Orchestras in the Community
Philip WOOD (b.1972) Partita (1. Allegretto grazioso [1:42]; 2. Larghetto [4:51]; 3. Allegro con brio)
David ELLIS (b.1933) 4. Fantasia upon one note [7:11]
Richard HOWARTH 5. Playtime [1:29]
David FORSHAW (b.1938) 6. Into the Light [9:58]
Peter CROSSLEY-HOLLAND (1916-2001) 7.Lullaby [2:00]
David ELLIS 8. Fantasia on a Ground [4:27]
Joaquin TURINA Y PEREZ (1882-1949) 9. La Oracion del Torero [7:56]
Herbert HOWELLS (1892-1983) 10. Elegy for viola and strings [8:11]
Francois GOSSEC (1734-1829) Symphony in D major (11. Allegro [5:22]; 12. Andante un poco allegretto [3:19]; 13. Presto [3:56] )
Henry PURCELL (1659-1695) 14. Chacony in G minor [5:16]
Jules MASSENET (1814-1912) 15.The Last Sleep of the Virgin [4:21]
David ELLIS Suite Francaise (16. Allemande [1:14]; 17. Forlane [1:40]; 18. Pavane [2:29]; 19. Galliard [2:02])
Richard Howarth (violin solo track 7); Richard Muncey (solo viola track 10); Robert Glenton (track 15)
Manchester Camerata Ensemble/Richard Howarth (tracks 1-8, 16-19)
Northern Chamber Orchestra/Nicholas Ward
rec. Alderley Edge Methodist Church, Cheshire, England, 16 December 2005; 23 January 2006 (Manchester Camerata Ensemble); Studio 7 BBC Manchester, December 1991)
ASC ASC CD86 [79:57]


Interesting subtitle to this disc; I confess I’ve always thought releasing musicians into the community to be a very dangerous notion. I also wonder how those orchestras not in the Community - all the others not on this disc I presume - feel about it.

Anyway, moving swiftly on from such PC-inspired absurdities, the actual music contained on this disc, performed by two chamber orchestras based mainly in Manchester, is well worth hearing. The Manchester Camerata’s contributions were recorded within the last year, while, slightly oddly, The Northern Chamber Orchestra’s tracks hail from 1991. This highlights the fact that it is a slightly awkward mish-mash of a programme, the outer parts consisting of quite recent music by relatively unknown ‘local’ composers. The central tracks are by established figures from the more distant past.

Still, this needn’t be a problem, and there’s no doubt that none of the newer pieces is in a particularly difficult or challenging idiom. The Partita by Philip Wood is well-written for string orchestra – everything on the disc is for strings other than the little Gossec symphony – and has a breezy Allegretto and a vigorous dance-like Allegro con brio, in which the influence of Bartók can be strongly felt. The central movement is an impressive if rather funereal Larghetto.

I found the two pieces by David Ellis, sometime BBC music producer and now retired, the most impressive amongst this first set of tracks. His Fantasia upon one note is gently hypnotic, with slowly shifting harmonies over a single, rhythmically repeated note in (I believe) the violas. Fantasia upon a ground is more agitated, built as it is on the first ground bass from Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, over which Dido sings her aria ‘Ah, Belinda’. My only reservation was that there seemed the potential for a much larger work here – Ellis arguably hasn’t worked his material hard enough. But this is assured, fluent writing of real character.

In between the Ellis pieces come three slighter, if not shorter, works. Playtime by Richard Howarth, violinist and director of the Camerata, is a tiny and very straightforward piece of musical fun. David Forshaw’s Into the Light, the ‘title piece’ of the disc, is more extended, and achieves a convincing psychological effect through its three-part structure, moving from a dark opening through to a lively dance-like final section. Influences of Bartók (again), Shostakovich and Britten are all very much in evidence at the start, then the troubled music is replaced by a more optimistic passage of rising melodies over repeated bass notes. I admired this passage, not so much the rather brash concluding passage – representing the arrival of the light I presume, illustrating perhaps the old saying about it being a better thing to travel hopefully than to arrive. Peter Crossley-Holland’s Lullaby for violin and strings is another very tiny piece, quite charming in its way, and beautifully performed by Richard Howarth.

The next seven tracks belong to the Northern Chamber Orchestra, and they begin with a fascinating piece by the Spaniard Joaquin Turina. This is La Oracion del Torero, ‘The Bullfighter’s Prayer’, originally composed in 1925 for string quartet. It has transferred to string orchestra most effectively, and the players under the talented Nicholas Ward capture its alternating moods of vigour and contemplation.

The viola is not well blessed with solo repertoire, compared at any rate to the violin and the cello, so it was good to come across this very lovely short Elegy by Herbert Howells, composed in 1917 and played here with great feeling by the orchestra’s principal violist Richard Muncey. The short booklet note comments strangely that it was composed ‘soon after’ Vaughan Williams’ Tallis Fantasia. Well that work was written in 1910 – seven years later is hardly ‘soon’, and, apart from a shared contemplative Englishness, there seems little point in the reference.

Gossec’s D major Symphony is a harmless enough little Classical work, with some comically naïve moments, but also a genuinely attractive central Andante. Purcell’s great G minor Chacony is hard to ruin, but the deafening harpsichord continuo here comes close to doing so, adequate though the string playing is. This part of the programme ends with the only real ‘lollipop’ on the disc, Massenet’s swooning Last Sleep of the Virgin, in a version for cello and strings. Robert Glenton projects the solo part with suitable intensity and in some style.

Back to the Camerata for the final item, David Ellis’s excellent Suite Française. This brief sequence of movements is based on melodies Ellis found in the books of ‘Danceries’ by the 16th century French composer Claude Gervais, making this a kind of companion piece to Warlock’s Capriol Suite. Like Warlock, Ellis dresses up the tunes with some quite acerbic harmonies, without ever traducing their essential nature. Once more, the Camerata give a polished performance; noteworthy is the splendidly rich corporate tone in the Pavane, and the witty, inventive Galliard makes a fine conclusion to this unassuming but highly enjoyable disc.

Gwyn Parry-Jones


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