Ronald CORP (b. 1951)
Guernsey Postcards (2004) [12:31]
Piano Concerto no.1 (1997) [30:27]
Symphony no.1 (2009) [22:23]
Leon McCawley (piano)
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Ronald Corp
rec. Liverpool Philharmonic Hall, 15-16 June 2009
World premiere recordings
DUTTON EPOCH CDLX 7233 [65:57]

Ronald Corp first crossed my radar as the conductor of a children’s choir in some broadcast Martinu circa 1980. Then in 1998 he conducted Bantock’s Celtic Symphony at Trinity College. In the 1980s he conducted several studio broadcast recordings of works by Geoffrey Bush. There were to be performances of Rubbra, Leighton, Tippett, Walton and Eric Wetherell. Then Hyperion involved him in a series of recordings projects the nmost notable for me has been the British light music series. As a composer his first major catalogue representation was a complete Dutton Epoch CD of his choral music Forever Child.

The first movement of Guernsey Postcards is The Viaer Marchi which has the suggestion of a bustling minimalist ostinato (Glass out of Nyman), bell carillons and thronged promenades by the sea. It’s a feel-good piece. I cannot imagine it not raising a smile. The central Pembroke Bay is a pleasing reflection – quiet and ruminative. The incessant pulse returns for the finale St Peter Port. Here the minimalist patterning continues with lilting accompaniment from the massed violins and then from triumphant brass. Both outer movements have a surging euphoric power.

The soloist in the Piano Concerto No.1 is the wonderful Leon McCawley who has already made a great impression with his recording for Avie of the complete solo piano music by Hans Gál. More recently his performance of Finzi’s Grand Fantasia and Fugue drew well deserved praise. He squares up to the Lisztian surliness of the first movement with its darkling roulades and vehement Totentanz echoes. He quickly asserts an exciting command of this nocturnal cauldron of a piece which in this movement also reminds me of Herrmann’s Concerto Macabre. After a slightly more peaceful central movement with its suggestions of whirlpools and the supernatural we come to the finale. This recalls the Shostakovich Second Piano Concerto in its machine-gun incessant vigour.

The Symphony No. 1 is tracked in four segments but is intended to be played as a single continuous movement. The work’s arc comprehends the darkest oppressive tragedy which overhangs the first two sections but lifts gradually for the last two. The finale is as sturdily victorious as the first two movement are minatory. The composer cites Roy Harris’s Third Symphony as a model. In his admiration for Harris Corp is in good company: John Veale’s First Symphony carries the Harris stigmata but to a greater extent than Corp. It too merits recording along with his Second. Speaking of kindred works one hopes that Dutton know about the two symphonies of another conductor-composer, Paul Adrian Rooke. They are in the same dramatic-tonal territory as the Corp.

I hope that this fine disc will do well. It deserves to and few people who love the symphonies of Bax, Lloyd, Sibelius or Nielsen will not warm to this music. More please.

Rob Barnett