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Philip SPRATLEY (b.1942)
Music for string orchestra
Sinfonietta op. 6 (1987) [26:30]
Clarinet Concertino - Byard's Leap op. 27 (1980s) [16:16]
Recorder Concertino - A Gallery of Cats op. 26 (1983 rev. 2008) [13:00]
In Outlaw Country - Suite for Harp, Strings and Trumpet (1971 rev. 2007?) [15:52]
Linda Merrick (clarinet); John Turner (recorder); Tracey Redfern (trumpet); Eira Lynn Jones (harp)
Royal Ballet Sinfonia/Barry Wordsworth
Manchester Sinfonia/Philip Spratley
rec. 16 March 2007, Angel Studios, London; 15 September 2008, St Thomas’ Church, Hillgate, Stockport.
TOCCATA TOCC0088 [71:11] 

Experience Classicsonline

Martin Anderson’s Toccata continue to challenge critics like myself who hanker after a more adventurous approach to repertoire. That he does this through the publication of book and compact discs is remarkable. Toccata’s Discovery Club is worth more than a second look if you are looking for a steady stream of new and usually rewarding voices.

I confess not have heard of Philip Spratley until this disc was issued. He was born in Nottinghamshire and his string orchestra music is warmly and lyrically complex. Having studied in Manchester he has worked in Essex and then for many years in Lincolnshire. He is not all that prolific - just 53 pus numbers to date.

The Sinfonietta for strings and timpani has a tawny intense and warmly surging quality that touches on Tippett without quite his finely entwined filigree. The third movement has the hunted feel of a Britten work and a desperately Beethovenian quality. Lyricism and desperation meet in the delta that is the finale. The Clarinet Concertino tells of the mythical Lincolnshire horse Byard who after trouncing Meg, an evil old hag, lives to old age after a miraculous episode win which he is able to confide in two children who befriend him in old age. The music reminds me in its songful directness and pensive reflection of his RNCM tutor Thomas Pitfield, calligrapher, composer, draughtsman and all-round renaissance Englishman. It also touches on the surface of RVW and Finzi territory. That Spratley should have written A Gallery of Cats for that hero of the recorder and of British music at large John Turner comes as little surprise. After all Spratley has always had cats … and not just one. John Turner is called on to use different instruments (soprano, treble, tenor and sopranino) across the work’s seven movements - each with its own ‘olde worlde’ title - including Corante, Rigadoon, Alla Pavan and Alla Giga. These sometimes chilly miniatures fly by with a wink, a chuckle and a shiver. They combine a sense of feline macabre and goose-pimple melancholia. Perhaps it is something about the recorder but the warmth of a cat in front of the fire must not have been the composer's intention. In Outlaw Country - Spratley has an inspired touch in devising titles - is concise, plangent, debonair and opulent. It’s the most uncomplicatedly playful of the four pieces.

What price now a recording of Spratley’s major A Choral Symphony on poems by John Clare? It was premiered by the Grantham Choral Society conducted by Michael Lank. Now there’s a work I would like to hear.

The composer provides his own revealing liner-notes. There he says: “Music is an act of friendship and one should always have one’s audience and listeners in mind.” The music bears out this sentiment.

Rob Barnett 


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