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Philip GRANGE (b. 1956)
Zeitgeist: Music by Philip Grange

The Kingdom of Bones for mezzo and large ensemble (1983) [21:57]
Lowry Dreamscape for brass band (1992) [8:34]
Diptych: (i) Sky-Maze with Song Shards for oboe and harp [6:41]; ii) Daedalus’s Lament for cor anglais and harp [10:38])
Concerto for Solo Clarinet Radical and Symphonic Wind Band - Shēng Shēng Bł Shí [21:36]
Northern Music Theatre/Graham Treacher; Sun Life Band/Roy Newsome; Okeanos: (Jinny Shaw (oboe/cor anglais); Lucy Wakeford (harp)); National Youth Wind Ensemble/Phillip Scott; Linda Hirst (mezzo); Sarah Williamson (clarinet)
rec. BBC, Maida Vale, May 1984 (The Kingdom of Bones); BBC Manchester, Studio 7, March 1995 (Lowry Dreamscape); Concert Hall, Music Department, University of Manchester, 9-10 September 2002 (Diptych); Wiltshire Arts Centre, 4 September 2005 (Concerto for Solo Clarinet)

This is the third CD to be released dedicated exclusively to the music of Philip Grange, a fact that is all the more pleasing given that until 1999 Grange’s music was inexplicably unrepresented in the catalogue.

That first release on the Black Box label, "Dark Labyrinth" was followed in 2006 by Metier’s "Darkness Visible". Between them these two discs feature works spanning over twenty years of Grange’s career with the latter including Cimmerian Nocturne of 1978, the work that first put Grange’s name on the musical map at the tender age of twenty two.

Campion’s newest offering includes another early piece that made a significant impression at the time of its Huddersfield Festival premiere in 1983. Like Cimmerian Nocturne, The Kingdom of Bones is a remarkably accomplished work for a composer who was still only in his mid-twenties. The work’s conception goes back further, its slow gestation over a period of six years being the result of a gradually evolving consideration of both text and architecture and placing it as contemporaneous in thought if not final realisation with Cimmerian Nocturne. The composer’s intention in The Kingdom of Bones was to tackle the issue of nuclear holocaust. The metaphorical imagery evoked by texts relating the tale of a mother and her baby in the context of a plague-ravaged country is further darkened by Grange’s use of the Russian language and the mezzo-soprano voice, here sung with striking intensity by Linda Hirst. The work falls into six sections, at the centre of which is a pivotal instrumental interlude that builds ominously to a nightmarish climax. Grange underpins the structure of the work with the tolling of bells at several key points. In line with its music-theatre origins the result is one of powerful emotion and drama, further aided by the 1984 BBC recording which is every bit as vivid as this reviewer recalls when it was first broadcast twenty-three years ago.

The 1993 recording of Lowry Dreamscape is another BBC recording, this time drawn from a broadcast that originally formed part of the highlights of that year’s BBC Festival of Brass. Sadly the band that premiered the work on that occasion, the Bristol-based Sun Life Band, is no longer in existence; a great shame given the evident commitment of the band’s playing under Roy Newsome. The connection between L.S. Lowry and the strong brass band tradition in the North-West was one that presented itself to the composer quickly. The title of the work is drawn from Lowry’s own reference to many of his paintings as "dreamscapes". It is in the substantial central section of the work that Grange embodies the essence of Lowry’s paintings, the "apocalypse of grime" that emanated from the artist’s industrial landscapes. The faster music is framed by austere flügel horn solos reflecting the contrasting personal resonances of the painter’s sense of artistic isolation.

Designed to be performed either individually or together the two contrasting pieces that comprise Diptych could indeed stand alone perfectly well. The references to Sky-Maze with Song Shards that increasingly surface in Daedalus’s Lament do however lend a certain unity to the pairing, despite the very different atmospheres that permeate each piece. In Sky-Maze, inspired by the swooping and diving of birds in flight, Grange places much of the writing in the upper reaches of the instrument’s registers creating often beguiling sounds of captivating movement and beauty. The darker tones of the cor anglais are finely suited to Daedalus’s lamentations for the loss of his son. In both cases the performances by Okeanos are beautifully shaped, in music that displays a differing aspect of Grange’s considerable musical imagination.

Likewise the performance of the demanding Concerto for Clarinet Radical and Symphonic Wind Band is one of impressive facility from the young forces of the National Youth Wind Ensemble and soloist Sarah Williamson. The work’s Chinese sub-title translates as "ever growing, never stopping", an apt description for a concerto that seems continuously to gather energy along its considerable twenty-one minute path. The "radical" role of the clarinet sees the soloist veer from the part of protagonist to suppressor around half way through, the latter directly inspired by the memorable television images of a lone student blocking the path of tanks in Tianamen Square. Ultimately the music disintegrates, with shards of the earlier fast music falling away to the lonely voice of the clarinet.

Since 2001 Grange has been employed as Professor of Composition at the University of Manchester and the Campion label’s Manchester connections continue to provide an admirable recorded platform for a good number of composers active both in and around Manchester as well as the North-West generally. In the case of Philip Grange the BBC archive has proved to be a fruitful source of material and it is good to have the two excellent archive recordings of The Kingdom of Bones and Lowry Dreamscape released into the public domain.

All in all the four challenging yet highly contrasting works on this enterprising CD amply demonstrate the fertile and richly coloured imagination of a composer whose work is at last receiving the recorded recognition it deserves.

Christopher Thomas


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