Howard BLAKE (b. 1938)
Spieltrieb for String Quartet (2008) [14:10]
A Month in the Country (2010) [13:53]
Leda and the Swan (1977) [9:37]
String Trio (1974) [11:41]
Walking in the Air (from The Snowman Suite for string quartet) (2010) [6:24]
Edinburgh Quartet
rec. Reid Hall, Edinburgh, Scotland, 5-7 June 2010
World première recordings
NAXOS 8.572688 [55:44]
Blake’s lovely pastoral music for A Month in the Country won him the British Film Institute’s Anthony Asquith Award for Musical Excellence. In 1992 Blake created a suite for string orchestra from his film score which he later transcribed most effectively for string quartet. The music speaks eloquently of the healing balm - the serenity of the English countryside - experienced by the two soldiers who had suffered the horrors of the Great War. The opening Idyll is a tranquil evocation of a sunlit peaceful countryside, all still except for the warbling of birds: upper divided strings tremolando. The brief second movement is a march with unfeeling, remorseless rhythms as the soldiers march blindly to their fate. The central Elegy: Adagio speaks movingly of the pity of war and reaches a climax that screams of the terrors of the trenches. The Scherzo is a rustic dance briefly turned sour by discordant memories. The finale brings a resolution in the realisation of Beauty and hoped for optimism heralded by birdsong.
The curiously named Spieltrieb (Schiller’s term for play) is something of a musical game, Blake deciding to write ‘whatever came into my head’ and then allowing the material to go ‘wherever it felt like going’. Consequently this is a spontaneous experiment in free-style music-making. It comprises music of very different moods stemming from a fast and furious and bad-tempered beginning that might be visualised as a train starting up: Blake’s train of thought? There follows melancholy, choleric, menacing (shades of Herrmann in Psycho mood) and merry music. Interestingly at one point, the first violin’s high harmonics accompany an innocent cradle song.
Blake’s expertly crafted and melodic String Trio opens with an Allegro energico. The movement begins sturdily then proceeds in good spirits with discussion and some good-humoured argument between the three players before the pace relaxes for them to indulge in a broad lyrical episode. The mood of the central Andante doloroso is exactly as its marking; the music poignant and a little Gaelic, and somehow transporting us back two or three centuries. The concluding Allegro capriccioso restores sunshine - a jolly dance.
Leda and the Swan derived from a commission for a ballet for The Queen’s Royal Silver Jubilee Celebrations. The ballet, The Court of Love, was premiered on 1 March 1977. From this ballet Blake produced music, for string quartet, for another TV ballet, Leda and the Swan. It was a somewhat erotically charged production which shocked some viewers. Blake’s music is arresting: poignant, mysterious, shadowy and has a sense of languor and sensuality.
The recital is rounded off with a beautiful and colourful arrangement of Blake’s well-known and well-loved ‘Walking in the Air’ theme from The Snowman.
Blake’s accessible music never fails to impress with its invention and generous melody.
Ian Lace

see also review by Byzantion
Blake’s accessible music never fails to impress with its invention and generous melody.