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Philip GATES (b.1963)
A Garland for Gatsby (2007) [33:08]
Piano Quintet (1997) [16:45]
The Lake Isle (1994) [8:16]
Philip Gates (piano) - Gatsby
Carducci Quartet and Philip Gates (piano) – Piano Quintet
Andrew Knights (oboe) and Philip Gates (piano) – The Lake Isle
rec. St John’s Church, New Alresford, September and November 2007
MELODIST 3130CD [56:51]


Experience Classicsonline

Philip Gates was born in London in 1963 and read Music at Oxford, studying piano privately with Phyllis Sellick. He is now a free-lance musician and composer. I see that he has composed wind music, amongst which is an alto work performed by that splendid player Roy Willcox and recorded by Shellwood Productions. He’s written sonatas and an A minor String Quartet (also recorded). This is my first encounter with his music.

A Garland for Gatsby, for solo piano, was written in 2007 and closely follows the plot of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel. Each incident is separately tracked – there are eighteen such altogether – and the music enters the Jazz Age with confidence and mordancy. Gatsby is a blues-tinged opener whilst the flirty, flighty Daisy is represented by drawing room pastiche, which shows us her vacuous attractiveness. There are Gershwinesque moments in Tom – and elsewhere too - and cross-referencing adds strongly to the inter-related nature of the characters’ entanglements; Myrtle for instance picks up on Tom but ‘blues’ it in a very sassy way.

As one can tell Gates has imbued his music with the spirit of the 1920s; curdled romance runs through one or two of the movements, as does the air of artificiality or deliberately evoked triviality. One of the cleverest examples is the Charleston [track 11] which has a formalised gaiety and then a halting rather disruptive air to it that hints at the unease lurking beneath the Bright Lights ambience. Gatsby’s Longing – which embodies one of the most haunting passages in the novel – is imbued with hints of Debussy. Foreboding grows as the cycle nears its end – deep bass tolling in The Vigil; the two gunshots that end Gatsby’s life represented by the piano’s treble; nice touch. Many would have gone for something altogether more ‘Frankie and Jonny’ - but we hear the shots from a distance and that’s what Gates conveys.

Very much enjoyed this piece; it’s tonal, lyrical, employs the 20s idioms without either obvious pastiche or embarrassment. Excellent tunes too.

The Piano Quintet is a much earlier work, dating from 1997 and is cast in three movements. Its idiom is early to mid period Bridge, and Howells maybe. There are fine sul ponticello and pizzicato-laced moments and plenty of fine sounding tunes. The slow movement’s initial fulsome romanticism is checked by some unease at its heart. But the finale banishes that with a vigorous and energetic tarantella. The Lake Isle (1994) is the final work here. Gates pays tribute to the Celtic Twilight in this piece which perhaps owes something to Bax – oboist Andrew Knights and the composer himself are at the helm of this lyric and bardic ballad.

This is a most engaging disc. Its idiom is sometimes almost defiantly old fashioned but there’s nothing wrong with that in my book.

Jonathan Woolf

see also Review by Rob Barnett


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