You might well know the name of British composer
Geoffrey Burgon. He wrote the music for the classic BBC adaptation
of John Le Carrťís subtle and very English spy novel Tinker,
Tailor, Soldier, Spy
. That book is at the antipodes from the
James Bond novels and Burgonís choral score is as different from
John Barryís Bond film scores as the divide between the two authorsí
writing styles. There are many other TV scores including The
Chronicles of Narnia
and the 1970s Brideshead Revisited
Several including some concert music have been reviewed for this
; and Cider
Burgonís concert works (Requiem
(Decca); Choral Music
) are not encountered quite so often but those who followed the ASV label Ė said to be making a come-back - will know of CDDCA1059 which runs to 66:08 and offers composer-directed recordings of his Merciless Beauty
; A Vision
; The Calm
and Voices from The Calm
. The artists were James Bowman (counter-tenor), Neil Jenkins (tenor), Kenneth Sillito (violin), Mark David (trumpet), Hugh Webb (harp) and the City of London Sinfonia (as here) and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields.
Now along comes this luxuriously recorded and unapologetically ambitious Chandos disc presenting two recent Burgon concertos. With them, from a decade before the concertos, comes an alternatively-voiced Merciless Beauty.
This time it comes with Sarah Connollyís sable-toned mezzo rather than James Bowmanís counter-tenor from the ASV disc.
That Burgonís career has jazz woven into and around it is also evident in the two concertos if not in Merciless Beauty
. The sting, sway and tizz of drum-kit and alto sax is part of the fabric of the Viola Concerto which was written for and dedicated to Philip Dukes. Itís in three movements of which the first has a cool jazz bass and percussion underpinning over which the viola takes its accustomed course as the melancholy but not undynamic country singer. That pensive aspect is to the fore in the central movement before the drum-kit establishes a redolence with the dance marathons of 1930s USA: dance till you drop - last couple still dancing wins. Lots of transparently presented, clever and biting percussion amid the orchestral canvas partner the classic ochre-toned English pastoral element.
The anthologised song-cycle with orchestra is a standard format within English music. Merciless Beauty stands beside such masterworks as Geoffrey Bushís Summer Serenade
(Chandos CHAN8864) and Carey Blytonís Lachrymae
(Upbeat URCD179). And thatís without looking to Britten. Of the seven songs four are by Kit White. The first is The Western Wind
which finds Connolly sturdy and steady of tone even when called on to soar. In The Letter to Anne Pregnant
the rise and fall of the solo line resonates with the vocal writing in Holstís Choral Symphony
without being anywhere nears a luxuriantly frondy. Blakeís Rose
has been set before Ė by Britten and most affectingly of all by Geoffrey Bush in Summer Serenade
. Burgonís has a concentrated incantatory quality. Tune for an Ice Cream Van
is irresistible with its masterly progress swift and full of mercurial enchantment. Itís an enchanting song and its sudden delays and rushes sometimes recall the more clever moments in Sondheim. We return to incantation for Merciless Beauty
Ė a Chaucer poem also set by RVW. Iron City Lover
is short and quick-flowing. Its affecting simplicity is equivalent to that of another roundelay: the song in RVWís Wenlock Edge
cycle, Oh When I was in Love With You
. The masterly Campionesque for Anna
is a sensuous love song coasting transcendentally close to tears.
The Cello Concerto was written for the cellist Alexander Kok (b. 1923 and the brother of Felix Kok, for years Leader of the CBSO) but he had retired from playing by the time the work was complete. Josephine Knight is now its first champion. It takes its inspiration from black and white Film Noir Ė the same source that inspired John Adamsí recently premiered orchestral work Film Noir
. A Nyman-style chugging pulse, deep down and suave, interacts subtly with the cello as it pads and sings. The genre includes Rozsaís Brute Force
and this work has some of that ruthless power and neon disillusion. The finale is extremely compelling with a strong theme atmospherically presented. Again the psychological locale is established by the acid-spit insistence of the drum-kit and by the romantic tendrils thrown out at 5:51. This is thoughtful writing: plangent, faintly minatory and gleaming in the reflected sun of Kodaly and Rozsa. Interesting that the two concertos each reference aspects the nostalgic popular culture of the USA.
For me all three works coast around the boundaries of night, sleep and dream. They have been most beautifully and lovingly recorded so that every skein and line can be heard. This is a tribute to Burgon, to the CLS principals and to the Chandos team.
I see, from Anthony Burtonís substantial liner-note, that Burgon has also written a full-scale opera based on Dickensí Hard Times
. Thatís something we should hear as also his concertos for piano and for percussion.