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Melodist

 

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

 

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London-born composer-pianist, 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 under-appreciated Toccata 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 and flute.

Here is a composer worth close attention. All three pieces on this disc are attractive and engage the listener directly.

Rob Barnett

 

 


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