RECORD OF THE MONTH
John GARDNER (b.1917)
Flourish for a Wedding Op. 162 (1983) [2:57]; Easter Fantasy Op. 232 (1997) [6:41]; Theme and Variations for Brass Quartet Op. 7 (1952) [11:11]; Five Dances for Organ Op. 179 (1988) [17:16]; Sonata da Chiesa sopra un thema di Claudio Monteverdi Op. 136 (1976) [13:44]; Sonata Secolare Op. 117 (1973) [15:21]
Paul Archibald (trumpet); Cosmopolitan Brass (Helen Sanger, Stephen Pemberton (trumpets), Kate Hainsworth, Alex Hambleton (horns), Craig Beattie, Fabian Schmidt (trombones), Yao Cong Tan (tuba)); Stephen King (organ); Chris Gardner (conductor):
rec. Brentwood Cathedral, 29-30 January, 12 February, 25 June 2010
TOCCATA CLASSICS TOCC 0048 [67:10]
See Paul Conway’s article about John Gardner
Among the many composers whose music does not get the exposure or the reputation that it deserves surely John Gardner is one of the most deserving. A few welcome discs apart – above all those of orchestral music from Naxos and ASV in recent years – anyone wanting to get to know his music has had to make do with scraps on other discs. So for that reason alone this disc should be warmly welcomed, but when in addition to the quality of the music, performances, recording and presentation are all first rate the achievement and the attraction of the disc are all the greater.
John Gardner is still best known for just one work – the carol Tomorrow shall be my dancing day. It turns up frequently in services, concerts and on disc. Whilst it deserves no less, and whilst there are many composers who have never managed anything half as memorable or enjoyable, this carol is merely the tip of the iceberg as far as his output is concerned. There are symphonies and concertos, much choral music and the opera The Moon and Sixpence which must be overdue for revival; it seems tailor-made for Opera North. All of his music that I have heard shares the characteristics of being above all musically alive, of having something to say and saying it interestingly and economically.
That is certainly the case with all the works on this disc although perhaps it is better not to listen to it straight through – the sound of brass and organ, whether together or separately – can be wearing. The first work – the Flourish for a Wedding – shows straightaway the characteristics I have described. It is for two trumpets, two trombones, tuba and organ, and makes use of the chorale Wachet auf in a joyous, varied and exciting miniature. The Easter Fantasy omits the tuba but is also based on existing melodies. The best works on the disc however are the two Sonatas. The Sonata da Chiesa for two trumpets and organ is based on a motif from L’Orfeo and its four very varied movements evoke the very spirit of Monteverdi. The Sonata Secolare is especially memorable for the slow and haunting middle movement.
The Theme and Variations was written for Philip Jones and was recorded by his quartet. Again its economy of means is remarkable. The Five Dances have been recorded recently by William Saunders on his disc Animal Parade which I reviewed recently. Both versions use the organ of Brentwood Cathedral – that by William Saunders being recorded in April 2010 and the present disc in January and June 2010. There is little to choose between these two versions of this highly enjoyable work.
The larger works are conducted by the composer’s son who also provides lengthy and interesting notes in the booklet. I knew little of this music before listening to this disc but it has given me immense pleasure and I am very keen to get to know more of this strangely under-performed and recorded composer.
This music has given me immense pleasure and I am very keen to get to know more of this strangely under-performed and recorded composer.