Michael Hurd’s chamber music is very approachable indeed. The Violin Sonata heads a quartet of works written for small forces and for solo piano. None proves less then engaging and enjoyable. Written in 1979 and revised six years later it’s actually, at only thirteen or so minutes, his most extensive chamber work. It’s got a lyrical, Les Six sort of appeal, and contains a very brief but ardent slow movement, topped by a finale of charming and light hearted variations; slightly folksy too. The Five Preludes, for piano, are compact and valuable. They range from a quite austere Invention, to a laid-back waltz, and include an ascending and descending triadic chorale.
By comparison the Sonatina for recorder and piano is an early work, written in 1964 and revised in 2002. Maybe it reflects some of the influence of Lennox Berkeley, and there’s warm melodic appeal throughout. The slow movement is especially lovely, and John Turner turns to the descant recorder for the vitality-plus finale. Turner does the honours for Hurd’s last work, the 2004 Three-Piece Suite (nice title) for recorder and string quartet. It shows no diminution in communicative qualities, or in terms of lyricism and wit, not least in the gawky dance finale.
Robin Milford is represented by a quintet of works. The Prelude was written for Vaughan Williams’s 80th birthday (Milford, who committed suicide, outlived the much older man by only a year). The Three Airs are light recorder and piano pieces with strong baroque and folk infusions, but the Fantasia for quartet, written in 1945, has stronger allegiances, its seven minute length proving quite harmonically varied within its compass; an expressive, highly attractive, indeed moving little work. Milford’s Sonatina for recorder and piano has some ingenious and attractive dances – all brisk – and the Christmas Pastoral is a two-minute charmer.
The odd-man-out is Dick Blackford, born in 1936 and still very much with us. His Concerto for recorder and string quartet is a buoyant, uplifting experience – totally unpretentious but well crafted for the forces. It too has strong baroque cadences, and mines a rich lyrical seam. The third and fourth movements are the longest – the latter is an exciting Allegro vivace – but things come together in the Lento postlude with its reflective nostalgia and the return of baroque motifs to complete the circle.
The recordings and performances are excellent. Those fond of the pastoral-dance-baroque patterns in British music will enjoy this selection.