can recall the two key works that won
me round to the music of Gordon Jacob.
Both were heard via Radio 3 broadcasts.
The first was the devil-may-care and
touching Viola Concerto with Frederick
Riddle. The second was the swashbuckling
Rhapsody played by Valerie Tryon with
the GUS Band conducted by Geoffrey Brand.
Jacob’s Little Concerto was written
during the days when my musical horizons
were broadening; not that I ever heard
it until now. It has all the artistry
and excitement of those other two concertos.
It’s eager and bright-eyed in the outer
movements with some salty percussion
contributions to add to the string textures.
The central Largo is a lovely
and sensitive romance worthy in its
different way to put alongside RVW’s
Romance in the Tuba Concerto.
Jacob’s famed fluency with so many instruments
rewards both the adventurous Leon Bosch
and the sympathetic and enquiring listener.
And so farewell to the orchestra; after this it’s
all Bosch alone or Bosch with Sung-Suk Kang. The Maconchy piece
is pierrot-fey and dissonant; quite a gear-change from the Jacob.
Thomas Pitfield’s triptych Sonatina takes us back to
tonal shores with light-handed jazz and a sincere delightful
blend of Bach and RVW. Berkeley’s piece is more reserved, as
you may expect, and has the merest dash of dissonance. It recalled
some of Berners’ miniatures but with a helping hand from Berg.
David Ellis’s Sonata is for the double bass alone and
is determinedly effortful. It’s a tribute to Bosch and Ellis
that there is a pleasing sense of achievement in the projection
of struggle and victory. John Walton’s Deep Song takes
us back to sonorous tonality with a direct-speaking populist
melody of considerable staying power. A touch of Dvořák
hangs around this piece but none the worse for that. The Alan
Bush Meditation is built around the ballad Geordie
and is a meditation in the same sense that Bliss wrote Meditations
on a Theme by John Blow. These are serious reflections in
which the moods flicker and Bush’s sometimes heavy hand is withheld.
It’s an outstandingly fine poetic piece and confirms that there
is a viable repertoire for this grand instrument. The piano
in each of the two Bush pieces reminds us of the Sea Song
Variations for piano and orchestra. Indeed the twists and
turns of string melody in the Scherzo recall the Second Symphony.
Bush is as distinctive as Martinů yet ever turning towards
the grave and serious.
McCabe’s Pueblo for solo instrument is a
major piece written for Bosch. It vividly portrays the desert;
not in baking sunshine but icy cold. You must not look for conventional
brilliance here except in the sense that the composer adroitly
captures a sullen and even ruthless mood. McCabe makes tangy
use of the instrument’s thrummingly deep bass and also its ethereal
counter-tenor. Lutyens’ The Tides of Time is a piece
in which both instruments plunge into the coldly statuesque
world of serialism. It reminds me that Malcolm Williamson was
fascinated by the 1960s sculptures of Henry Moore. To me this
music seems to refer to that world. It was written for another
great bassist: Rodney Slatford who was behind the Bush, Berkeley
and Maconchy works as well. Alfred Reynolds’ jaunty and cheeky
Hornpipe is the oldest piece here. It makes an ideal
and ingratiating end to a generous recital built from contrasts.
The notes could
hardly be more detailed and span eighteen pages. All credit to
Bosch who, I hope, will go on to uncover more treasures for the
benefit of an audience far beyond the habituées of this gentle
giant of an instrument.