Gareth GLYN(b. 1951)
Noson yn yr opera (A Night at the Opera) (1997)[9:58]
Welsh Incident (1989)[14:28]
Dinas Barhaus (Enduring City) (2010)[18:12]
Microconcerto for double bass and orchestra (2004)[4:32]
Conseirto i’r Utgorn (Trumpet Concerto) (2008) [21:38]
Llam Carw (Stag’s Leap) (2010)[6:56]
Cyfres Fechan i Linynnau (Little Suite for Strings)(2011)[11:20]
Jonathan Pryce (narrator), Philippe Schartz (trumpet), Dominic Seldis
(double-bass), Jane Watts (organ)
BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Grant Llewellyn
Royal Ballet Sinfonia/Gavin Sutherland; Julian Bigg
rec. Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff, 9-10 December 2010 (A Night at the
Opera, Enduring City, Trumpet Concerto, Gwlmabsant, Llam Carw),
18 March 2008, Angel Studios, London (Welsh Incident, Microconcerto,
Cariad), 11 June 2010 (Little Suite)
SAIN SCD2653 [54:56 + 46:08]
This is a fantastic CD: from the first to the last track there
is interest, variety, and sheer enjoyment. All these works are
approachable and satisfying, yet they bear repeated hearing.
It would be easy to categorise Gareth Glyn’s musical style as
‘light’ – a number of his pieces have been released on CDs dedicated
to that particular genre. However there is a much greater depth
and variety to his music that defies any easy attempt at stereotyping.
The first track on this two-CD album is close to my heart. I
have to confess that of all the musical forms, opera, is the
one that I least relate to. I have tried, but largely failed
to get into Wagner, Verdi and Richard Strauss; I do dote on
A Night at the Opera was commissioned in 1997 for the
Beaumaris Festival. The composer has written that ‘a three act
opera can take as many hours to stage ...’ and even longer if
it is part of The Ring! What this present piece does
is condense the whole operatic experience into ‘one-twentieth’
of the time. The work begins with a mini-overture and is followed
by a series of solos, duets, ensembles, recitatives and choruses
– minus the vocal parts! Glyn has introduced all the passion,
anger, love and humour into a short piece that is well constructed
and delightfully scored. It is my kind of ‘Night at the Opera’.
The title track of the CD, Welsh Incident is a marvellous
piece. When one takes the poetry of Robert Graves, the music
of Gareth Glyn, and the voice of the Welsh actor Jonathan Pryce
one is guaranteed success. In addition there is a virtuosic
part for double-bass which is beautifully played by Dominic
Seldis. The action of this ‘narration’ takes place in the sea-side
town of Criccieth: it concerns the arrival of ‘aliens’ on a
local beach. Do not try to read too much into the text: just
enjoy the lovely language and the striking imagery that owes
not a little to Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood. It is
one of my discoveries of 2011!
The following piece is a much more serious work that owes something
to the musical style of Aaron Copland. Enduring City
was written to celebrate the 300th anniversary of
the founding of New Bern, which was the first permanent seat
of the colonial government of the US state of North Carolina.
It is an historical portrayal of the city with an optimistic
nod to the future. The work has number of sections which refer
to people and events in the city’s history. Enduring City
opens with a reflection of John Lawson and then Christoph von
Graffenried who were the founding fathers. The next movement
considers the history of ‘Tryon Palace’, which was the governor’s
residence. In this music a variety of historical styles are
rehearsed including ‘fife and drum’ bands, minuets and African
slave music. The conclusion of this section combines all these
elements into a riotous coda. The following movement considers
the various conflicts that have beset the city, including a
major battle during the Civil War, which is then followed by
a long and beautiful meditation on ‘reconciliation and beauty’.
Enduring City concludes with a positive look to the future.
This is not light music: it is an involved and vital work which
is written in an approachable language. It is probably the most
important work presented in this retrospective CD.
The Microconcerto for double-bass and orchestra is a little
masterpiece. It was commissioned by BBC Radio 3 as part of its
‘Endangered Species’ series which was an attempt to encourage
young people to take up instruments that were less popular.
Gareth Glyn writes that it is the intention of this short work
(lasting just 4½ minutes) to explore ‘the full range of the
double bass – pitch, technique, style, and so on ...’ It is
an interesting and often striking exploration. The main ‘slow
movement’ theme is gorgeous – I never knew the double-bass could
be so expressive and play so ‘high’. It is a work that nods
to Charlie Mingus without being in any way a jazz concerto.
It should be a Prom favourite!
I really enjoyed Cariad, which is an arrangement or reworking
of a number of Welsh folksongs with the theme of love (cariad).
This is light-music at its very best with lots of lovely tunes,
harmonies and effective orchestration. Look out for a few nods
to the brass band tradition. Ardderchog!
The second CD begins with an impressive Trumpet Concerto. This
is a good substantial work that is composed in a modern but
not ‘difficult’ style. Each of the three movements has a title,
which is in Welsh. The first is ‘Hyder’ meaning confidence –
which is expressed in music that at times is ‘impetuous, quiet
or assured’. It is exciting music that is well-balanced and
evokes a variety of moods and emotions. The middle movement
is entitled ‘Hiraeth’ which the composer suggests is untranslatable,
but means something akin to ‘nostalgia’ or ‘longing’. Certainly
Glyn has written heartfelt, almost valedictory music that uses
the lyrical tones of the trumpet to such good effect. The finale
is based on ‘Hwyl’ which in this usage means ‘farewell’. It
is a romp from start to finish, with a gorgeous big tune emerging
at the halfway mark. The work closes with rhythmic excitement
which the composer suggests is somewhere between laughter and
tears. This is a great concerto that demands to be in the repertoire
of all good trumpet players. There are so few good examples
of the genre: Gareth Glyn’s is one of the best.
It is always good to hear the organ in its secular guise. The
concerted piece Gwlymabsant was commissioned by the BBC
and was first performed on 1 March 1994 with the present soloist,
Jane Watts. Gareth Glyn points put that the title literally
means ‘the festival of a patron saint’ which was for many years
a tradition on Ynys Môn (Anglesey). It was originally a
joyous religious festival which changed character over the years
into an opportunity for dancing, drinking and feasting. This
dichotomy is represented in the music, although the emphasis
appears to be on the festivities rather than a deep meditation
on the life of ‘any’ saint! The work is full of Mathias-like
rhythmic vitality and angular melodies. A real show-stopper!
Llam Carw (Stag’s Leap) is based on a Welsh legend about St.
Eilian. He was sent to Ynys Môn as a Papal emissary in
the 5th century. One of his early acts was the ‘righteous’
blinding of a certain Cadwallon Lawhir (Cadwallan Long-hand)
as a rather severe punishment for cattle rustling. However,
the king begged for his sight to be restored. St Eilian agreed
on the condition that he - or was it the Papacy - were granted
the land that his stag could cover before being brought down
by Cadwallan’s hounds. However, the stag leapt across a mighty
gorge and escaped the dogs and ran far and wide. Much more land
was gained than anyone imagined. The location of the jump is
called ‘Llam Carw’ and is located near the town of Amlwch in
Anglesey. The subject makes an ideal opportunity for an exciting
and musically satisfying little tone poem. The work is in two
sections with a ‘leap’ lasting a few seconds in the middle of
the piece. The first section is the chase and a highly coloured
‘scherzo’ with some clever orchestration. The leap is cleverly
contrived – brass over tremolo strings and then the stag is
free (rhyddid) and with tonally unambiguous music escapes the
threat of death.
Llam Carw is an excellent example of programme music
which does not rely too heavily on the listener following a
detailed narrative – chase/leap of faith/freedom is a fairly
universal emotion that can be understood without the appurtenances
of medieval hagiography. However, the story is a good one and
deserves to be remembered.
The final work on this retrospective CD is the absolutely charming
Little Suite for Strings. To my ear this is a work that
is right up there with all the best ‘string orchestra’ pieces
in the British music repertoire. The work is divided into five
movements – Strings on the Wing, Waltz, Moto perpetuo, Prayer
and Hoedown. Perhaps the opening movement is the most impressive
and the waltz is a little gem. The concluding Hoedown is as
good as the slightly better known example from Rodeo
by Aaron Copland!
Only two minor complaints about this CD – firstly it is a wee
bit short – with just over 100 minutes of music on two discs.
And secondly, the liner notes are difficult to read: maroon-ish
text on grey, shiny paper!
This is a great double CD that will give much pleasure and entertainment
to listeners. However, there is also a great deal of music here
that is deeper and requires our attention and concentration.
Gareth Glyn is one of the best composers around and I guess
that he deserves a greater popularity. This CD is an important
step in that direction. I await (eagerly) a release of his fine