David JEPHCOTT (b.1949)
A Different View
The Egyptian Suite (arr. Ian Stephens) [19:24]
Plain Sailing (arr. Louis Johnson and James Wishart) [22:07]
Adagio for strings (arr. Jim Clements) [3:29]
The Blue Nile (arr. Jim Clements) [3:22]
The Prairie Whistler (arr. Jim Clements) [3:00]
The Ludlow Air (arr. Paul Whittall) [4:28]
The Phantoms' Waltz (arr. Paul Whittall) [3:07]
Glencoe (arr. Piers Tattersall) [3:33]
The Refugees' Lament (arr. Gavin Higgins) [3:08]
David Morris (whistler)
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Clark Rundell
rec. Bushell Hall, Birkenhead School, 26 June 2007; Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool, 17 July 2007. DDD

According to the liner-notes, David Jephcott "began composing music as an antidote to the stresses of his commercial and academic life in the 1990s. He is entirely self-taught as both pianist and composer and uses modern music technology to produce beautiful melodies." As is clear from the track-listing above, the orchestral arrangements are delegated to others - "a hand-picked team of skilled arrangers" - which gives the subtitle of this release, 'The Music of David Jephcott', a slightly different bias: it is Jephcott's music, but through collaboration.

Six of the nine works are between three and three-and-a-half minutes in length, with a seventh only a minute longer. Together these pieces constitute, in the nicest sense, a kind of musical bric-a-brac, mellifluous miniatures all capably orchestrated, albeit formulaically and mainly for strings, and some with more flair than others. The three arrangements by Jim Clements are the weakest; the worst of them, The Prairie Whistler, features a solo for David Morris, who is an English professional whistler and former International Grand Champion whistler! Morris has published three CDs on his own label (David Morris Music), the latest entitled 'Classical Whistling'. He certainly is a fine whistler, but the piece tries hardest to be film music and comes across as considerably more contrived than the others.

It is the two programmatic longer works that stand out on this CD, at least in part on account of their imaginative orchestration. What the original scoring of any of these works was, incidentally, is only rarely mentioned in the notes. Plain Sailing is a "seascape [which] depicts the exhilaration and the perils of being on the high seas", and includes allusions to well-known sea shanties. Needless to say, the music imagines tall ships and the sailing is anything but plain - it is not too long before a storm is brewing and Jephcott's music for once turns dissonant, if not exactly ferocious. It is not exactly the Voyages of Sinbad - or even the Adagio of Spartacus and Phrygia! - but the work has its atmospheric moments, and the ending is creative.

The four-movement Egyptian Suite "depicts the serendipitous discovery of a Pharaoh's tomb by a small group of desert nomads." The sections are entitled 'The discovery of the tomb', 'Greed', 'The spirits awaken', and lastly 'Retribution' - in which the covetous nomads are entombed alive with their booty! All of which might give the impression that this is a work of relentless drama and turmoil, yet Jephcott cannot help but smile through his music, giving a family-friendly, Disney-filtered version of dark and bad.

The booklet, sporting a photo of Ludlow Castle on the cover, gives a layman's description of each work and good biographical notes all round - of Jephcott, Rundell, Morris and the arrangers. The sound quality is fairly good, but it is worth pointing out that this is not a Nimbus recording as such: despite the obvious fact that Nimbus is clearly involved at a high level, Nimbus Alliance is really a different label. To quote the company that deals with its PR: "Nimbus Alliance is a new classical record label created to offer international distribution to recordings licensed to Nimbus Records but not originated by the company. Nimbus Alliance will consider projects from new artists trying to find a home for recordings they have made privately" - which presumably is the case for this disc.

In sum, this is not really a CD to interest the collector of art music as such, but, whilst hardly compelling, is certainly worthy of consideration by anyone attracted to pretty, timeless music that is lightweight, but not banal.

Collected reviews and contact at reviews.gramma.co.uk

Hardly compelling but certainly worthy of consideration by anyone attracted to pretty, timeless music that is lightweight, but not banal.

And a review by Rob Barnett:-

David Jephcott has a gift for coming up with memorable melodies. Some would call it a knack which always seems half to demean this blessed faculty. Stafford-born he is an autodidact so far as music is concerned. The works featured here are the products of commissioned collaborations with sympathetic and like-minded arrangers so Mr Jephcott cannot be short of a penny or two. The existence of this pleasing recording is also no doubt facilitated by the composerís bank account Ė as indeed are many such discs in the currently thronged market. His professional field is technology and we are told that he invented the bead drive. He now lives in Shropshire.

The Adagio is a smoothly soothing piece with none of the piercing intensity of the Barber equivalent; no harm in that. This is soul balm and for me suggests one of those lightly ecstatic moonlit caramel intermezzos in French grand opera. The Blue Nile is for full orchestra. It too is gentle and emerges from the same benign milieu as the Adagio - a touch of the Pavanes by Faurť and Ravel. The Ludlow Air is dedicated to the Shropshire town. Its language is tinged with that of the classic English pastoral, a mist of birdsong, green swooning and folksy Butterworth contours peppered with the occasional insurgency from Mozart and Canteloube. Glencoe starts with an explosion of life and moves rapidly to a lissom melody countered with a catchy half-dance and half planxty for harp.

Jephcott's wife, Ann, enjoys Egyptology and assisted David in the Egyptian Suite. This does not draw on the Arabian conventions of Western music. The language is not dissimilar to the other pieces here. It is in four movements with the Discovery of the Tomb marked by a climax soon softened away. Greed is reflected in growling and gritty music - a hint of early Sibelius in troll mood. The spirits awaken continues in sinister mood with capricious fantasy and grotesqueries at play in woodwind and percussion. Retribution is smooth like the freestanding piece The Blue Nile. It develops in chiming splendour with the music fading back into filmic relaxation. The Prairie Whistler is a rather melancholy piece with a touch of Claude Lelouch rather than the claimed Morricone resonance. The Refugees' Lament was written in response to the grievous plight of those dispossessed by the Balkans war. The cello is played by RLPO principal Jonathan Aasgaard. It's a gravely elegiac curvaceous melody though paced moderato rather than slow. The Phantom's Waltz is from a ballet score. The scenario a married couple riven by infidelity. The gods try a reconciliation in a forest glade. This waltz is part melancholy French film score from the 1950s and part Valse Triste.

Plain sailing is a 22 minute high seas fantasy. The language cuts through waters already voyaged by Sibelius in Pohjola's Daughter and by Moeran, Prokofiev and Copland. Thereís some fantastically fibrous and capricious writing for piano with orchestra along the way. Dark clouds sweep in. The musicís progress feels instinctual and becomes dissonant before reverting to type. Thereís extendedly lyrical and even nostalgic bejewelled writing over the last nine or so minutes. It's not all gentle marine reverie but there is quite a high quota of that mood.

Pleasing listening. Shame we donít get any idea of when these works were written.

Rob Barnett

Pleasing and undemanding listening.