A disc of English music that gets to be called ‘light’
which is all too often considered to be a derogatory term.
Those of us to whom English music is important and who wish
to promote it as much as possible must admit that John Turner
is a wonder. He has been recording, encouraging and commissioning
English recorder music for many years. The long roll-call of
composers - of which I am one - are queuing up to hear him play
their music. This disc is a re-issue of an a 2000 release on
the Olympia label. Since then, amongst many contributions, he
has added English recorder concertos in 2002 (ASV
WHL 2143) and ‘Over the Water’ (Dutton
CDLX 7191). Some composers have featured on at least two
of Turner’s earlier albums so we have Philip Lane here.
He was also on the ASV disc above.
Thomas Pitfield was a Mancunian as is John Turner who greatly
loves and respects his music. His Concerto for Recorder
and String Orchestra and Percussion, first played by Turner,
is the longest work here. Pitfield was also an illustrator.
His portrait of John Turner is a part of the booklet as is the
wonderful cover sketch. If you know Pitfield’s autobiographical
volumes No Song, No Supper and the follow-up A Song
before Supper (Thames Publishing, London) then you are well
aware of his talents. The Concerto’s three movements have
the usual melodious charm. There’s also rhythmic interest
- for example the second movement is in 7/8 time. The first
movement is a succinct sonata-form using the descant and treble
recorders. The second uses the tenor and the third the descant.
As an example of a perfect miniature you could do no worse than
hear Pitfield’s other work here: the Three Nautical
Sketches. This is in three compact movements which play
with melodies such as We be three poor mariners and Donkey
Riding in the Quodlibet movement one, Tom Bowling
in movement two and The Keel Row in movement three. England
is here in a time-warp but fashion needs pushing to one side
and the craftsmanship and fun of the music can be fully appreciated.
That comment applies to all of the works on this CD; they are
open to be enjoyed by anyone and yet have an individuality and
an interest all of their own.
Philip Lane’s piece opens the disc. His music and his
arrangements have become well-known and have often been recorded,
for example his fun Suite of Cotswold Folk Dances (ASV
WHL 2126) available on that sadly finished series British
Light Music Discoveries. Something of that world lives in
this recorder work the Suite Ancienne with
its dance titles harking back to the 18th Century
(not too ancienne!) An Intrada - movement 1, perhaps
a little renaissance, then Courtly Dance - movement 2,
Minuet - movement 3 and Revelry - movement 4.
Actually this piece exists in three forms. Its original was
written to accompany a pageant celebrating George III’s
visit to Cheltenham in 1788. Then Lane made out of it a piece
for recorder and piano which John Turner first performed in
New Zealand in 1993. Now we have the orchestral version. The
style is gently English - Last of the Summer Wine-type
- but most enjoyable for all that and not a little nostalgic.
Philip Lane also had a hand in Malcolm Arnold’s Concertino
for recorder and string orchestra as he orchestrated it with
composer’s permission. It is in three short movements,
a long-lined Cantilena, a melancholy Chaconne
and an all too brief Rondo alla Tarantella. It was the
last of four concertinos for various woodwind instruments that
Arnold composed in the immediate post-war years and has material
related to the contemporary 2nd Symphony including
some harmonically quite ambiguous passages. An interesting piece.
It was a good idea to wheel out Edward Gregson to conduct his
own Three Matisse Impressions as he obtains
such gorgeous sounds from his strings, harp and percussion.
I decided to listen to the piece whilst looking at three paintings
although in the case of the opening Pastoral I wasn’t
too sure which painting - possibly the Open Window: Collioure
of 1905. The sounds and the floating harmony seem to match the
bright and serene boats glimpsed above the pot plants. The second
movement Luxe, calme et volupté is a reminder
of how much Matisse liked to paint nudes; there is a 1905 beach
picture with this title which is remarkable for its southern
light which Gregson delightfully captures. Matisse’s most
famous picture is Dance of 1913. It has been said that
the painter was quite “disturbed by the aggressive frenzy
of this work” (Nicholas Watkins, Phaidon Press, London,
1992). I have to say that Gregson goes in more for lithe nymphs
and, changing to the sopranino for the last bars, just emphasizes
the point. The painting’s dark colours are not matched
in the music. But so what, it’s a lovely and charming
mood and anyway Matisse with his two masterpieces Dance
and Music is a great choice to tap into for any composer.
That said, one grizzled old painter by the harbour in Collioure
once told me that he thought Matisse a charlatan.
Although often referred to as being Welsh Ian Parrott is in
fact a Londoner but has worked in Wales for much of his life
and has found the landscape and culture of the country inspirational.
The Prelude and Waltz begins in a rather
serious mood in his often typically chromatic and tonally ambiguous
language. The ensuing Waltz lightens the atmosphere. It’s
one thing to dream a catchy melody yourself, but for your wife
to do so is somewhat unusual. Mind you this happened soon after
Parrott remarried at the age of 80! This is the melody of the
waltz which although a little faltering towards the end is almost
entirely happy and suitably carefree for a newly married couple.
David Lyon’s Concertino is a lovely piece in three
movements which really gives the recorder a chance to shine
in many decorative and quite demanding passages although always
written at the service of the music. John Turner, as on the
entire CD, is foot-perfect both in intonation and character
and at every turn his playing is an absolute delight. The movements
are Badinage, Réverie based on two waltz
tunes and Promenade which uses a melody Lyon had written
for a TV theme.
The CD ends with a charming work by Allan Bullard Recipes
for recorder and string orchestra. The deft and imaginative
orchestration belies the fact that originally this was conceived
and first performed by John Turner as an unaccompanied piece.
It falls into five movements, first a delightfully French
Coffee and Croissants (on a Parisian pavement no doubt at
nine in the morning watching the world go by), secondly an indolent
Barbecue Blues followed by Prawn Paella with quotes
from Bizet. Then an exotic and neatly arranged Special Chop
Suey and finally Fish and Chips. Here I found my
imagination running to a visit to Morecambe a few years ago
and eating F&Cs on the seafront while the circus trundled
Finally, a question in light of the small-scale works here,
and not a criticism. Has anyone out there written a large scale
serious-minded work of say thirty minutes duration for recorder
and orchestra either for John Turner or Michala Petri or any
player? I would love to know if there are some big modern concertos
for the instrument.
Anyway this is all wonderfully approachable music and a marvellously
entertaining disc. Buy it.
see also review by Nick
Barnard and of the original Olympia release by Colin