Christopher WRIGHT (b.1954) Evocation: String and Orchestral Music
Spring Overture (2007)a [4:45]
A Little Light Music (2006)b [15:05]
Threnody for Orchestra (2002)c [10:18]
Searching (2006)d [10:34]
Idyll for Small Orchestra (2000)e [9:18]
Divertimento (2008)f [8:29]
Capriccio Burlesque (2008)g [5:02]
Maxwell Spiers (cor anglais)d
John Turner (treble recorder)f
Royal Ballet Sinfonia/Barry Wordsworthbg
Royal Ballet Sinfonia/Gavin Sutherlandacd
Manchester Sinfonia/Christopher Wrightef
rec. Angel Studios, London 15 March 2007 bg and 9 July 2007 acd; St Thomas’ Church, Stockport 19 January 2009 ef

DUTTON EPOCH CDLX 7240 [64:11]

Christopher Wright has, like many of us, spent much of his life in a classroom or teaching hours of peripatetic brass to make a living, but all the time he has been composing. Once he retired due to ill health to live in the glorious county of Suffolk, he could get on with his life’s work. This CD, the first devoted entirely to his music, stands testimony to the fruit of his efforts.

The disc opens with the ‘Spring Overture’. This was an attempt at a 21st Century ‘Portsmouth Point’ Overture (Walton) and it almost succeeds. It has orchestral sparkle, all instruments are superbly written for (a quality one notices throughout the disc), it has rhythmic élan and a certain jazzy quality. What it probably lacks is a really generous melody to add a lengthier contrast to all of the surrounding bustle. Nevertheless orchestras should pay attention and take it up as a happy concert-opener.

The previous year Wright had written his neo-classical four movement ‘A Little Light Music’ inspired by Mozart’s ‘Eine Kleine’. Having said that the style and language is very much in the English Pastoral tradition. Indeed at times I was reminded of Robin Milford. The third movement is a deeply felt Intermezzo and the finale, marked ‘Frolic’, is mostly in a brusque 7/8. The performance gives the impression that a few more minutes rehearsing certain passages would not have gone amiss. Nevertheless the music’s frank open-country feel redeems any dodgy moments.

Dutton have done much to re-habilitate so-called light music. What that really means is music by composers who have the knack or who have deliberately organized their language so that although it may, indeed certainly will have the individualist touch, can also relate to anyone who is in tune with music of any sort. The next work by Wright falls neatly into this category. It is the ‘Divertimento for Treble Recorder and Strings’ with the indomitable John Turner. He regularly pops up on this label and others in the performance of modern British recorder music an area in which he takes such a positive interest. This is a one-movement work which divides fast, slow, fast. The inner one inhabits a world of “the lonely sea and the sky”. The outer ones are captivatingly agile and athletic. Truly an attractive and useful addition to this ever-burgeoning repertoire. The composer conducts, as he does in the exquisite ‘Idyll’ for small orchestra, with much sensitivity. This is, to quote the composer “A shameless piece of old-fashioned, understated, reserved and pastoral” English music written for an amateur orchestra in his native county. Finzi will come to mind. Whereas he can be a little ‘angst-ridden’ this work has a serenity which is utterly captivating as well as a deep sense of loss and utter sadness.

But to talk of light-music is hopelessly misleading as these next works demonstrate. The score of Threnody is headed by a quote from a Shakespeare sonnet “I summon remembrance of things past”. It has been said (it might be Jonathan Bate, I can’t quite recall) that everything Shakespeare wrote was probably autobiographical. This work was written at a time of bereavement for the composer after the sudden death of his mother. Whether creative artists should parade their private problems in front of the general public is a controversial point which I won’t explore but this piece is mournful and at times angry. It seems to me to be a little disjointed and this might be because it was written over a period of twelve months when Wright was working on, as he admits, two other major works. It’s entirely possible that coming back occasionally to it did not ultimately do it much structural favour. Having said that it is a succinct and powerful utterance and reaches a suitably massive and painful climax.

A similar mood inhabits the world of Searching. It’s laid out for the melancholy cor anglais and for strings. In his note Wright mentions how the modern world has as its gods “travel and activity “and how “stillness and security” have often become blotted out. Instead of offering us a musical world demonstrating the emptiness of consistent movement we are offered a basically slow and deeply sad landscape in which the roaming cor anglais “represents the individual’s search” moving through life’s rich pattern. It’s a beautiful piece but its background seems to me to be a little at odds with its brief. Again though, the performance is highly sensitive to the composer’s wishes and Maxwell Spiers has a wondrous and heart-felt tonal quality.

The booklet notes, written by the composer are fairly analytical, but not frighteningly so. They come up to Dutton’s usual high standards with performer biographies and photos. The last work continues the Waltonian theme mentioned above even down to the title although Wright does not ape Walton deliberately. It is the succinct ‘Capriccio Burlesque’ - again for strings. It’s an excitingly written piece described at its first performance in 2003 by the Oare String Orchestra as “a work of quality”. It falls into three continuous sections structured in ternary form. With snappy rhythms and catchy melodies it ends the CD on a high.

Gary Higginson

Sparkle, rhythmic élan and a certain jazzy quality. Also very much in the English Pastoral tradition… see Full Review