Philip Gates, a Queen’s College, Oxford
graduate, was a pupil of Phyllis Sellick.
His musical credo is bound up with melody.
There’s no avant-garde solipsism here.
The eighteen solo piano
pieces of A Garland for Gatsby,
as flightily despatched by the composer,
lead us through "characters and
scenes from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925
novel ‘The Great Gatsby’". The
mood varies from the elliptical subtlety
of Ravel to the lissom melody of Poulenc.
Along the way we encounter moments that
are surely in tribute to Bill Mayerl
as well as sentimental asides and drowsy
wee-small-hours cocktail lounge confidences.
The jazz age is there sure enough but
then so are nostalgic glimpses of the
Edwardian era redolent of Samuel Barber’s
Souvenirs. The Piano Quintet
is a compact three movement work with
less of popular culture about its pages.
Ravel is another voice but the lyrical
wealth of the writing and its passionate
upsurge suggest the influence of Herbert
Howells’ chamber music of the period
1910-20. The model might well be Howells’
thirty minute Piano Quartet. Certainly
you are likely to enjoy this piece if
you warm to the Howells and the Ravel
String Quartet. The middle movement
is a touchingly folksy-pastoral Romanza.
The finale is looks forward at times
to the lighter manner of the Gatsby
sequence but its asserted mood is back
in the green-shoot vitality of English
pastoralism. The Lake Isle for
oboe and piano is a rhapsody inspired
by W.B. Yeats' poem ‘The Lake Isle of
Innisfree’. Its language is rooted in
the English lyric mainstream yet chastened
by a certain caustic-lachrymose Irish
lilt. The halting tolling of the piano
might remind you of
a similar piano ‘chime’ in Martinů’s
e Due Canzoni. The oboe part is
most lovingly and sensitively shaped
by Andrew Knights.
Gates is not new to
CD. His string quartet in A minor was
issued on Naim Audio in 1998 in a recording
by the Eberle Quartet – that
I would like to hear. Shellwood Productions,
well known for their predilection for
Mayerl, issued a CD (also unheard by
me) of his music for alto sax, clarinet
Here is a composer
worth close attention. All three pieces
on this disc are attractive and engage
the listener directly.