David DUBERY (b.1948)
Songs and Chamber music
Sonatina for oboe and piano (Threesome for 2 players) (1986) [6:34]
Three Songs to Poems by Robert Graves (for mezzo, recorder and piano
Four Songs for mezzo and piano (1971-1985) [8:34]
Suite from Degrees of Evidence for recorder, oboe and viola
Remember for voice and piano (2005) [3:11]
Two Stopfordian Impressions for recorder and piano (2008-2009)
Sonata for cello and piano (2006) [11:22]
Escapades for recorder, bassoon and piano (2008-2009) [10:13]
Walking Cimbrone for bassoon and piano (2007) [3:43]
Harlequinade for recorder and guitar (2007) [12:35]
Mrs Harris in Paris (Valse Temptation) for treble
recorder and piano (2003) [3:45]
Adrienne Murray (mezzo), John Turner (recorder), Peter Dixon (cello),
Richard Simpson (oboe), Graham Salvage (bassoon), Craig Ogden (guitar),
Richard Williamson (viola), David Dubery (piano), Paul Janes (piano)
rec. Royal Northern College of Music Concert Hall, Manchester, 9
August 2008 (Songs), 22 December 2008 (Sonatina, Suite, Sonata,
Escapades and Harlequinade), 25 March 2009 (Impressions, Mrs Harris
goes to Paris))
METIER MSV28523 [78:47]
Until hearing this CD, David Dubery was a composer largely unknown
to me. I had heard his short miniature Mrs Harris in Paris,
but that is all. However, as a Manchester-based composer he
appealed to me. It seems that so many great and good composers
from that part of the world have been largely sidelined by the
musical establishment. Think only of Eric Fogg, Thomas Pitfield,
John Foulds and Alan Rawsthorne, to name but four.
It is not the place to give a comprehensive biography of David
Dubery; however three things can be said. Firstly he was born
in Durban in South Africa in 1948. In 1961 he came to his mother’s
home town of Manchester. Secondly, from an early age he composed
music and later studied at the Northern School of Music between
1964 and 1967. He has spent the intervening years working in
the fields of music, stage and broadcasting. Thirdly, he works
in a traditional musical language that is approachable, but
sometimes demanding. He prefers to compose miniatures rather
than large-scale pieces, however amongst the songs and the chamber
pieces there are a few musical theatre pieces such as Once
upon an Ark and an American-styled musical called Love
Lines. Although there is no symphony (yet) there are a number
of concerted works and tone poems.
The best place to start this fascinating musical journey is
spending some time with Mrs. Harris [who] goes to
Paris. This miniature for recorder and piano is subtitled
Valse Temptation! The original dates back to 1980 when
the composer was working on a musical adaptation of the novel
of the same name by Paul Gallico. Some of the music was reworked
into the present Parisian Waltz in 2003. Apparently the
‘temptation’ was not a man but a Dior gown! A lovely little
piece to get to know the composer with.
I know that it is working backwards through the track-listing,
but the delightful suite Harlequinade is a good place
to continue our exploration. This was written in 2007 for the
unusual combination of guitar and recorder. Just to recap, the
name Harlequinade was given to the 18th century
English adaptation of the Italian commedia dell’arte.
There are four lovely, varied and balanced movements. The work
opens with Pantalone’s Minuet which is a wistful - but
with an occasional ‘edge’ - little number with some really ‘Mediterranean’
moments about it. Pantalone was the greedy and ‘over-amorous’
father of the lovely Columbine. He tries to keep his daughter
and Harlequin apart. The second movement, which is short, reveals
her ‘gossiping and intriguing’. However, this is followed by
Columbine’s Romance with Arlecchino (Harlequin). This
is the heart of the work: a truly beautiful piece of ‘love’
music. The finale is given over to Harlequin himself with a
lively and vibrant dance –this includes a drunken moment from
which everyone eventually sobers up. Altogether a great little
suite that is totally in sympathy with its subject. However,
I would prefer to hear the recorder part played by the flute:
I understand from the composer that such an arrangement exists.
I would then move on to the short Walking Cimbrone written
for bassoon and piano. It was inspired by a stray dog that ‘adopted’
the composer and his partner whilst they were visiting the Villa
Cimbrone in Ravello. Dubery writes that the ‘dog was ... sad,
comic and caused embarrassment at every turn. Certainly the
present piece matches Elgar’s Mina as a nice little character
sketch of ‘man’s best friend’! The piece was written for the
bassoonist Graham Salvage.
Escapades also had Salvage in mind. These four short
pieces were composed in 2008 for recorder, bassoon and piano.
The musical idea is to present material as a conversation or
dialogue between all three players. The suite has great variety,
with an opening movement of considerable metrical change; the
second is a bit hard-edged and has ‘oriental’ overtones. The
third is a rhapsody of some beauty, whilst the final movement
is a neo-classical dance.
As part of our wayward exploration of this CD it would be good
to now examine some of the songs. A number of poets are represented
including Hilaire Belloc, Jonathan Swift, Robert Graves, Douglas
Gibson and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Begin with the lovely ‘Remember’
by Christina Rossetti from her Goblin Market sequence.
It is a well-wrought little song that expresses the brave sentiments
of the poem. Certainly the last line is heart-breaking ‘Better
by far you should forget and smile/than that you should remember
me and be sad.’
The Four Songs for ‘medium voice’ are worthy additions to the
repertoire of English lieder. The set opens with Douglas Gibson’s
fine poem ‘Another Spring’. Gibson is a poet that I do not know,
but his lines are a perfect example of pastoral poetry that
nods to John Clare: it is sympathetically set by Dubery. Dante
Gabriel Rossetti’s great metaphysical poem, ‘Sudden Light’ (I
have been here before/but when or how I cannot tell) is the
heart of the cycle. This is deep and thoughtful. Things lighten
a bit with Swift’s ‘rollicking, colourful Irish characterisation,
‘Onyons’. The final poem is the favourite Belloc poem ‘The Birds’:
When Jesus Christ was four years old/The angels brought Him
little toys of gold. It is a setting that reflects the childlike
simplicity of the words, but also notes the deeper thoughts
hidden between the lines. It was the composer’s first published
song in 1971.
There were originally another two songs in this group but these
were set aside.
Move back now to instrumental music. The Two Stopfordian
Impressions for recorder and piano were written for the
redoubtable John Turner. For those not blessed with North-Country
connections the adjective ‘Stopfordian’ applies to people and
things related to the great Cheshire town of Stockport: pupils
at Stockport Grammar School style themselves Stopfordians.
David Dubery has composed two delightful and utterly poetic
little numbers called Pinch Belly Park and The Glass
Umbrella. The former is evocative of a winter’s day walk
in the said Pinch Belly Park, which is the local name for Vernon
Park. This is a little bit of minimalism that creates a chilly
feel. The latter is a musical portrayal of the stunning Victorian
market hall and St Mary’s Church bells. The work was composed
in 2010. There is also a version for oboe and piano.
I have a problem with the Three Songs to Poems by Robert Graves:
I really feel that the woodwind part does not add value. In
fact, I believe that the tonal characteristic of the recorder
jars or competes with the singer: it certainly does not complement
her. I would rather hear this in a revised arrangement for piano
and mezzo-soprano only. The songs themselves and their performance
- the above comment notwithstanding - are absolutely beautiful.
They encompass moods from the dreamlike ‘Under the Olives’ to
the urbane ‘I will write’ which borders on jazz. The first performance
of these songs took place at Prestwich Music Club in 2003.
After this we move onwards to the Suite from Degrees of Evidence
for recorder, oboe and viola. Not the set of pieces that most
impressed me: they seemed just a little contrived. For one thing
they are only four of six pieces that were originally conceived.
They are based on a ‘chapter heading class 4, ‘intellect’ from
Roget’ Thesaurus!’ I find them disjointed and largely unmemorable.
Perhaps the version for String Quartet may be more impressive?
There are four movements: ‘Memory’, ‘Certainty’, ‘Possibility’
Lastly, the two most impressive, and possibly the most important
works on this CD. The disc opens with the Sonatina for oboe
and piano which is subtitled ‘Threesome for 2 players.’ This
short piece is in three clever and well-balanced movements which
display the talent and technique of both oboist and pianist.
From the opening bars of the ‘allegro vivace’ with its ‘quirky’
tune to the closing ‘cheeky’ passages in the ‘presto’ this work
holds the interest and both entertains and impresses. The middle
movement, which is a little ‘moderato’ pastoral, is truly lovely
and quite moving. This Sonatina is fresh, tuneful and a delight.
It deserves to be in the repertoire of all oboists.
The masterpiece on this present CD is the Cello Sonata. This
work was originally conceived for double-bass and piano; however
that work never came to pass. The Sonata was completed in 2006
and lasts for about eleven minutes. It is in three movements.
This is lyrical work, that sits fairly and squarely the late
twentieth century tradition of music that does not challenge
the listener with issues of musical language, but certainly
makes demands on their emotional engagement. The heart of the
work is the deeply-felt ‘lento’ – which is both profound and
moving. The composer suggests that this music was inspired by
a tramp across the hills above Varenna, near Lake Como in Italy.
However all is put to rights in the frenetic ‘energico’: apart
from a brief respite, this is all movement and pace. The cello
part sounds extremely difficult, with the pianist’s technique
is pushed a bit too. The conclusion is ‘bravura’ to say the
This is an important Cello Sonata that must surely enter the
repertoire. There is not a bar of this piece that is not interesting,
enjoyable and satisfying.
All in all this is a great retrospective CD of music by the
Mancunian composer David Dubery. With one exception, I enjoyed
every single item on this disc. Let us hope that over the coming
years many other works from his catalogue find their way into
the recording studio.