Matthew CURTIS (b.1959)
Orchestral Works - Volume III
On the Move [4:41]
Flute Concerto [20:56]
Five Dances for String Orchestra [12:26]
Divertimento Concertante [17:11]
At Twilight [4:30]
Partita [15:46]
Jennifer Stinton (flute), Verity Butler (clarinet)
Royal Ballet Sinfonia/Gavin Sutherland
rec. 6 July 2004 (Partita), 11 April 2005 (On the Move; Divertimento), 21 February 2005, Whitfield Street Studios, London. DDD
CAMPION CAMEO 2055 [72:27]
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 good thing.
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 I, Volume II, and Volume IV.
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 counterpoint.
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 tune!
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.
Oleg Ledeniov
A great way to start a day.