Tony BANKS (b.1950)
SIX Pieces for Orchestra (orch. Paul Englishby)
Still Waters [6:46]
Wild Pilgrimage [8:19]
The Oracle [5:22]
City of Gold [12:09]
Charlie Siem (violin) (Siren); Martin Robertson (alto saxophone) (Blade)
City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra/Paul Englishby
rec. 13-17 March 2011, Smécky Music Studios, Prague. DDD.
NAXOS 8.572986 [51:48]
Tony Banks is known as one of the founder members of the Genesis band. He plays different instruments, though in Genesis we saw him mostly as a keyboard player. He is responsible for much of the group’s music, and in later years started composing for films. Classical music was always a big influence, and it was noted that his compositions were especially influenced by the music of Vaughan Williams. Following the success of SEVEN - a Suite for Orchestra, Tony Banks continues with another set of classical works, SIX. I wonder if this hints at a mathematical progression, and in the end There can be only ONE.
Unlike SEVEN, where pieces written independently over a long span of years were put together rather ad hoc, the elements of SIX were conceived together, with the present program in mind from the very start. The pieces can be appreciated as standalone works, yet they form a logical suite. This is a long Odyssey, where the hero travels the seven seas, seeing many wonders on the way, until he reaches the goal.
The opening track, Siren, starts in lavish and ecstatic manner: Behold the Sea itself! The alto saxophone sings the song of the Siren. This song is not alluring or ominous; to me it sounds like the excitement of the voyage, the longing for far-away lands and the good wind in the sails. These are the sparkling southern seas where Sindbad’s ship sailed in Rimsky-Korsakov’s Sheherazade. The music has a constant forward momentum. There are pearls in the depths of this sea, and bouncing waves on its surface. The voyage is sunny and happy.
Still Waters are not still at all; they are just calm. There is an enthusiastic feeling of endless vistas, the open skies, and the fresh breeze. The music reminds me of Vaughan Williams, in both his solemn and pastoral moods. The waves rise to a beautiful climax.
Blade is more active and anxious while its structure is rhapsodic. The solo violin powerfully soars above the orchestral thickets. The mood is heroic and, although the opening speaks of troubles - the only such place in the score - soon the music becomes jubilant. It brought to my mind Elgar’s Sea Pictures. There is something deeply British in these waves of orchestral string sound.
Wild Pilgrimage has more of pilgrimage than it does of wildness. Its calm solemnity reminded me of the Church Windows of Respighi. If there is something wild, it could be the beauty of the wide, wild nature: the open spaces, the hills and the valleys that one can imagine while listening to this music, the static beauty of Bruckner. This piece seems to lack a centre of attention and is not really distinctive. It is the least memorable of the SIX, but it looks good as part of the suite. It starts quite “British-pastoral”, but the tension grows until a swinging and gilded, Scriabinesque climax crowns the ending.
The Oracle is one of those wide-flowing, hymn-like tunes that the children’s choruses love so much to perform. Its structure is almost strophic; the soloing woodwinds repeat the melody with slight variations. The mood is serene; this is probably the sweetest track of the album.
The City of Gold is an appropriately grand finale, with heavy brass and cymbal clashes. We are carried on great wings, as in the finale of Sibelius’ Second Symphony. The City of Gold opens in front of our eyes through the morning mists; it grows and shines in the rising sun. This is the longest of the pieces, but has excellent propulsion and passes in a single breath. This was a happy journey, and the hero is tired, but not troubled. The music is attractive and impressive, and provides a good wrap-up for the suite with an atmosphere of elation.
Overall the music is quite conservative, yet with enough invention and talent to ensure listening pleasure. There are none of the rock or pop connections that one could expect or dread. The appeal does not come from conflict and drama, as the music is positive and sweet; nor does it come from humor or comedy, as it is not cerebral. It shares these qualities with the music of John Rutter - sweet music with style and feeling, as serious as light music goes, and as light as serious does.
The pieces are mostly monothematic and uniform, yet they are far more than exercises. There is little thematic variation and some repetition, which however does not turn into monotony, mostly thanks to the good momentum and interesting orchestral coloring. The orchestration was done by Paul Englishby, and it is excellent, vibrant and inventive. He creates an iridescent shine of orchestral colors, and the result belongs to him as much as to the composer.
The orchestral playing is coherent. The orchestra is dexterous, navigating the dense textures with clarity. The conductor handles well the rhythmic foundation, maintaining constant drive throughout; the music just flies forward. The soloists are virtuosic and expressive. The recording is clear and spacious, highlighting interesting details, yet without being overwhelming in the loud places. All in all, an enjoyable journey.
An enjoyable journey.