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.
see also Review
by Rob Barnett