Ronald SENATOR (b.1926)
Greenwood and Paradise (1985) [9:48]
Four Shakespeare Sonnets (1982) [11:36]
Spring Changes (1990) [14:17]
A Poet to his Beloved (1984) [10:43]
Don Quixote (1980) [1:08]
Mobiles for piano (1983/1999) [16:14]
Polish Suite (1991) [9:22]
Marni Nixon (soprano); Isabelle Ganz (mezzo); Michael Philip Davis (tenor); Stanley Drucker (clarinet); Michael Rudiakov (cello); Miriam Brickman (piano)
Recording details not given
RONALD SENATOR RS 1962 [73:22]

Ronald Senator may not be a name you are familiar with, but here is an English composer who can really write, and create music which is of great worth. It is valuable, not just to everyone interested in English music, but to anyone with an interest in what is being created now, or in the very recent past.

Senator’s voice is English, but not of the pastoral school, for his language is broader than that school would allow, and his studies with Egon Wellesz (1944/1947) - a Schönberg pupil - and Arnold Cooke (1955/1958) - a Hindemith pupil - would have opened his ears to the music of the contemporary continent.

This disk is a fabulous introduction to his music, for it shows his innate lyricism, tinged with his own brand of, by turns, melancholy and exuberance. Greenwood and Paradise is a setting for two voices. They are here, the wonderful Marni Nixon (good to have her back on disk) and Michael Philip Davis. They are mediaeval French love lyrics sung in the original language by the tenor and simultaneously, by the soprano, in Ursula Vaughan Williams’s English translations. This is much better than having two sopranos for there the lines cross too closely and cause confusion. It is a very beautiful work, full of tender warmth and relaxed tunefulness.

The Four Shakespeare Sonnets are recitations of said words by the pianist to her own accompaniment. They are well performed by Miriam Brickman (Senator’s wife), for whom they were written, and one can forgive the slight intrusion of her American accent into such quintessentially English words for she understand the words and the music serves to highlight the emotions and images, without getting in the way of the text. It amazes me that this piece isn’t heard more often for it is suitably different to much contemporary piano music.

Spring Changes is an extended work for clarinet - Stanley Drucker - recently retired from the first chair of the New York Philharmonic, after a career of 61 years with them - and piano. It’s a major addition to the repertoire being a one movement Fantasy Sonata of great virtuosity. If you need a comparison, think of John Ireland’s Fantasy Sonata with a broader harmonic base. Drucker plays quite brilliantly; it was written for the two performers here, and the performance is one of total conviction. This is a thrilling piece.

A Poet to his Beloved sets Yeats, in a rather impersonal way, the words being at odds with the music. This is passionate stuff, but at one remove, rather like looking at the lover and the beloved than it being by the two. Isabelle Ganz is the full-voiced soloist, and she brings a warmth to the music, which is implied more than is obvious.

Don Quixote and Mobiles are both for piano. Don Quixote is a quicksilver scherzo, racing hither and thither; it’s a kind of bravura concert study. There are two books of Mobiles and there is no indication here as to how the pieces we have here fit into those two sets. However, the seven pieces make a satisfying suite, ranging from high spirits to brooding introspective, searching, slow movements.

The Polish Suite was written for Rivka Golani, but also exists in versions for violin and cello. Five brief movements play and cajole the senses, ending with a fiery Oberek. The change from viola to cello has given the music more gravitas and weightiness. Much as I enjoy the version for viola, this has shed new light on the work.

The performances, throughout, are very good indeed. Everyone shows a real commitment to the music. Miriam Brickman is the sympathetic accompanist throughout - not to say virtuoso soloist herself. The sound is a bit boxy and dated but don’t let that bother you for the musical rewards are so great that this music simply screams to be heard. If you don’t know Senator’s work, don’t be a stranger to this fine English composer and make him your discovery for 2010.

Bob Briggs