People listen to classical music for various reasons. Some want
to experience passions, deep emotions and catharsis. This music
is larger than life, and we rarely encounter such sensations
in “real life”, definitely not on an everyday basis. Beethoven,
Schumann, Mahler are from this flock. Then there is music that
is life itself: the world, the nature, the philosophy; it is
wise and far from the fuss and the distress. Bach is the monarch
there. And there is music which we call “light”: its aim is
to make us feel good in positive ways. Is it inferior to the
other two kinds? I don’t think so. As Chesterton once put it,
“Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly”. When
we want the music to heal our sores instead of pressing on them
or explaining them, we’ll probably turn to Haydn and Mozart,
Ravel and numerous other Frenchmen, Gershwin and Johann Strauss.
It’s like having a good dessert after the meal: you can live
without desserts all your life – and some people do. And you
can’t feed on desserts only. At the right moment they are a
Matthew Curtis was essentially self-taught as a composer and
orchestrator, but his gift to create beautiful light music is
unmistakable. The liner-note mentions his conviction “that the
possibilities of traditional tonality and form are far from
exhausted and there remains a great longing for more accessible
contemporary classical music among performers and audiences
alike”. The Campion Cameo label released a series dedicated
to the music of Matthew Curtis, all performed by the same forces.
On MusicWeb International you can read reviews of Volume
II, and Volume
The composer definitely has a consistent style and technique,
which results in a rather uniform musical level over the disc
– uniform, but not monotonous. The opening piece: On the
Move is a boisterous and merry overture. The orchestral
palette is diverse and the woodwinds are skillfully employed
to color the music. With swift forward drive and catchy motifs,
the music leaves one with a light, upbeat feeling.
The Flute concerto is very pastoral, in accordance
with the instrument’s character. The soloist is not set against
the orchestra, as happens in many concertos. Instead a balance
is struck as in an orchestral rhapsody with flute obbligato.
Also, there are no feats of virtuosity for the soloist. The
first movement flies forward; the melody rises and falls like
a bird borne by currents of air. The mood is rhapsodic, with
light melancholy, and a feeling of cool freshness and open skies.
There are also some dancing elements, reminiscent of the English
dances of Vaughan Williams and Malcolm Arnold. The slow movement
is a quintessential British pastoral: songlike and sweet, truly
idyllic. The finale is a festive tarantella, where the happy
flute is like a squirrel jumping from branch to branch. The
middle episode is lush Romantic, sung by the full orchestra.
The ending is standard, but effective.
Five Dances for String Orchestra reminded me of Grieg’s
Holberg Suite. Waltz is very Glazunov-style,
airy and graceful, full of colorful ribbons, balloons and cotton
candy. Écossaise, in the best Scotch traditions, is
bright, virile and jumpy. Episodes of diverse character make
it interesting. The short Minuet is atmospheric and
plaintive. The harmonies sound appropriately antique. The title
Marching Polka may sound alarming, but actually the
music is not “square” at all, with only a modicum of marching
and with enough string relief. The second subject is more lyrical
and flowing. The highly syncopated Bergamasque swings
and bounces merrily. The intricate symphonic writing shows well-wrought
By calling his clarinet concerto a Divertimento, the
composer waived any attempts at conflict. The music is genial
and sweet. The first movement is pastoral, fast but not hurried,
a light Allegretto – imagine something between the
first movement of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony and
Gershwin’s I Got Plenty of Nuttin’, but also with a
certain Broadway quality – so add to the mix Don’t Cry for
Me, Argentina. The ensuing Adagio cantabile is
built on long Tchaikovskian melodies – in fact, its character
resembles that of the middle movement of Tchaikovsky’s First
piano concerto. There is much luminosity in this gentle waltz.
The composer handles well the color palette of the orchestra.
The Divertimento ends with a cheerful, mercurial Allegro
– allegedly depicting the antics of composer’s two cats. It
is lighthearted and quite entertaining – if it only had a big
At Twilight is a vast, lush Adagio of strings over
harp, Rachmaninov-style. One can easily imagine it as part of
a ballet – a love-scene.
Partita consists of three movements. Scherzo
is fanfare-like and festive. It alternates between running forward
and gently waltzing. The music is bold and energetic. The solemn
Nocturne starts with a wide, warm flow of strings –
like Elgar’s Nimrod or the Intermezzo from
Cavalleria Rusticana. Then a sudden sharp chill comes
with the second theme, as in the “American” slow movements of
Dvorak. Finally, the Rondo resembles the bustling overtures
of Rimsky-Korsakov, with some American and Spanish flavors added
in the middle. This is one masterly wrought piece of orchestral
bravura, rich in catchy motifs and lavishly orchestrated, with
trumpeting brass, flourishing strings, and a rich percussion
covering. Among all the happy music on the disc, this is probably
the happiest, and a pleasure to listen to, especially since
it never becomes bombastic, and always keeps the style.
The music here is graceful and charming. Any monotony of hearty
merriment is compensated for by the brightness of motifs and
the rich inventiveness of the textures. There may not be any
really Big Tunes here that grab the memory easily, but all the
other ingredients of “orchestral favorites” are present.
The orchestra is enthusiastic and agile, and plays with feeling
and nimble articulation. The conducting is very alive. The textures
are often multi-layered, but never sound heavy. Whether you
are looking for lavish, inventive orchestration in the style
of Rimsky-Korsakov and Ravel, or for Malcolm Arnold’s buoyancy,
or would just like to discover a good tune-smith, this might
be the thing for you. This disc won’t change your life but if
can definitely improve some of its minutes. I found it a great
way to start a day.