The Rose Tree - Music in Memory of Basil Deane
Basil DEANE (1928-2006)/Raymond WARREN (b.1928)
The Rose Tree, for soprano, recorder and cello (c.2007) [5:30]
Anthony HEDGES (b.1931)
Four Poems of W. B. Yeats, for soprano, recorder, cello and piano (?) [8:26]
John McDOWELL (b.1935)
On the Sussex Downs, for soprano, recorder and cello (?) [3:54]
Elizabeth POSTON (1905-1987)
Concertino da Camera on a Theme of Martin Peerson, for recorder, oboe d'amore, gamba and harpsichord (1957) [7:39]
Geoffrey POOLE (b.1949)
After Long Silence, for soprano, recorder and cello (2007) [9:00]
John JOUBERT (b.1927)
A Woman Young and Old, Op. 162, for soprano, recorder, cello and harpsichord (c.2007) [12:09]
John MANDUELL (b.1928)
Verses from Calvary for soprano, recorder, oboe, violin and cello (2007) [7:58]
Lennox BERKELEY (1903-1989)
Una and the Lion, Op. 98, for soprano, recorder, gamba and harpsichord (1978) [13:13]
Lesley-Jane Rogers (soprano); John Turner (recorder ); Richard Simpson (oboe); Richard Howarth (violin); Richard Tunnicliffe (viola da gamba); Jonathan Price (cello); Ian Thompson (harpsichord and piano)
rec. Cosmo Rodewald Hall, Manchester University, 4, 7-8 January, 29 March 2010
PRIMA FACIE PFCD005 [68:40]
I first came across Basil Deane (1928-2006) when I discovered his study of Albert Roussel. It was based on his doctoral thesis. At present it is still quoted in most bibliographies of the composer as being a seminal work. Certainly, it guided me in my exploration of this fascinating music and for that I am eternally grateful. Other books from his pen included important monographs on Cherubini and Alun Hoddinott.
Deane was born in Ulster and spent most of his working life in a trail of academic appointments including Professorships of Music at Sheffield, Manchester and Birmingham universities. He was Director of Music at the Arts Council of Great Britain during the late nineteen-seventies. His activities were not limited to the United Kingdom. He was the first Principal of the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts, and held office in the University of Melbourne. He was also a prolific broadcaster on radio and television. In his final years, he lived in Portugal and was involved with local music-making.
The present CD is a tribute featuring music composed ‘in his memory for a concert at the Bridgewater Hall, Manchester’ which was given in September 2007. The main thrust of this tribute is settings of songs by Deane’s ‘beloved’ poet W.B. Yeats. However non-vocal works are also included.
A word of warning. I believe that all the pieces on this disc are worthy of the listener’s undivided attention. Please approach them individually: do not just play-through the CD from end to end.
The opening piece reveals another facet of Deane’s achievement - that of a composer. The composer Raymond Warren notes that at the time of Deane’s death, he was working on a set of songs for soprano, recorder and cello to texts by Yeats. The manuscript was presumed lost, but subsequently turned up amongst his papers. Warren has ‘realised’ the songs by completing the accompaniment and making a few minor changes to the vocal line. It is not mentioned how many poems Deane originally planned to set although two have been completed here - the eponymous ‘The Rose Tree’ and ‘I am of Ireland’. A recurring theme is the timelessness of much of the music: it is difficult to apply any kind of stylistic or analogous descriptive label. Certainly these spare, Spartan settings have a lilt of Irish folksong seen though the prism of an almost atonal fragmented-sounding accompaniment. They are fine examples of song composition.
I found the Anthony Hedges contribution a little unbalanced. The scoring causes the issue. Each of the four songs has a different accompaniment - 1) recorder 2) cello 3) recorder and cello and 4) recorder, cello and piano. I accept that the musical reason for this is to underscore the concept of ‘change’ that the composer has found in the four Yeats poems. The journey would appear to be from innocence to experience, hence the ‘building up’ of forces in the accompaniment. That said, these are attractive songs that are expressive, moving and vocally challenging. The four poems set are ‘To a child dancing in the wind’; ‘O Do not love too long’; ‘Sweet Dancer’ and ‘The Cat and the Moon’. No date is given for this work in the liner-notes.
John McDowell was born in Armagh City in Northern Ireland in 1935 and subsequently studied music at The Queen's University of Belfast. His tutors there included Raymond Warren for composition. He was Head of Music at Stranmillis University College, Belfast, for seventeen years, and founded and directed the Stranmillis Singers and the Stranmillis Operatic Society. He has broadcast regularly as pianist and conductor, and continues to teach piano. His compositions include chamber music, choral pieces and songs, and works for piano, as well as music, both original and arranged, involving recorders.
McDowell has managed to capture the mood and spirit of the landscape in his short setting ‘On the Sussex Downs’ for soprano, recorder and cello. The text set is by the American poet Sara Teasdale. The composer has noted that Basil and his first wife Norma spent a number of years living in this locality. The music is utterly simple (in the best possible sense) developing a sense of spaciousness appropriate to the landscape. There is nothing ‘simple’ about the virtuosic vocal line, which perfectly exploits Lesley-Jane Rogers’s high tessitura.
Elizabeth Poston is a composer who only occasionally crops up in discussions of British music - which is a pity. Encouraged by Peter Warlock and Ralph Vaughan Williams she made a significant contribution - especially with her incidental music for radio broadcasts, vocal pieces and a deal of chamber works. Unfortunately, where she is still recalled it is for her one carol ‘Jesus Christ the Apple Tree’. The ‘Concertino da Camera on a theme of Martin Peerson’ is a major work by any standards. It is scored for recorder, oboe d’amore, gamba and harpsichord. I guess that the listener may suspect that this work is going to be ‘pastiche’; nothing could be further from the truth. Poston has certainly used gestures derived from baroque and sixteenth century music. However, she is a child of her time and has introduced a variety of textures and harmonies from the neo-baroque music that was in the air at the time of writing - such as Stravinsky’s ‘Dumbarton Oaks’ (1937-8). It is interesting that Poston was a gifted harpsichordist and had played Walter Leigh’s Harpsichord Concerto (1934) on a number of occasions.
I struggled with Geoffrey Poole’s ‘After Long Silence’ for soprano, recorder and cello. He deploys a declamatory vocal style that appears to detract from the text. The accompaniment is fragmented and disjointed and makes use of a number of ‘novel’ instrumental effects. Yet there is depth and a power in this setting that transcends my reservations and makes an appropriate memorial to Deane and to the composer’s [Poole’s] late wife. Perhaps I just need to hear this work a few more times.
I found John Joubert’s setting of A Woman Young and Old, Op. 162, for soprano, recorder, cello and harpsichord much more approachable. What impressed me with this cycle was the composer’s ability to bring considerable diversity and variety to what is a series of strophic settings. The poems, by Yeats, are themselves written using stanzas, regular metres and rhyming schemes. The cycle explores ‘the experience of love as known to youth and age’. It is beautifully written and makes effective use of the accompaniment which is varied in every detail.
Sir John Manduell chose to set part of one of Yeats’ ‘playlets’ as his tribute to Basil Deane; in this case ‘Calvary’. The play was written during turbulent times in Ireland and depicts Christ dreaming of his Passion and attempting to come to terms with the existentialist fact that He is alone in the Universe. In spite of His sacrifice He has been rejected. The work is scored for soprano, recorder, oboe, violin and cello. I find it an introverted work that is inherently depressing. The accompaniment is integral to the entire construction. The composer has made use of some excellent word-painting. For me, there are echoes of the bleakness of Peter Warlock’s masterpiece, The Curlew. This is a work that has been evacuated of any warmth or hope. Yet, it is effective and the music is in perfect equilibrium with the text. A masterpiece.
The final work is the remarkable Una and the Lion, Op. 98 by Lennox Berkeley. It is one of the composer’s last pieces. This cantata was commissioned by the recorderist Carl Dolmetsch and was first performed at the Wigmore Hall in March 1979. The text is derived from Edmund Spenser’s ‘The Fairy Queen’ (Part 1, Canto 3) and describes an incident between the young queen and a lion. Initially the lion’s intention is to eat the girl, but instead he is ‘charmed’ by her and ‘befriends her’. The words are truly beautiful and bring a tear to the eye (‘Still when she slept, he kept both watch and ward/And when she waked, he waited diligent). Berkeley’s music is the perfect complement. The musical language seems timeless. Peter Dickinson has noted that Berkeley admitted to struggling with the ‘early’ music instrumentation but this does not show in the finished work. This is my favourite piece on this CD.
I have reviewed a number of discs featuring the beautiful voice of Lesley-Jane Rogers and she excels herself in these challenging works. Again, I need make no special pleading for the major contribution made by John Turner. He not only plays on most of the tracks but has acted as the ‘impresario’ for the genesis of this CD. As always, his playing is stunning. The other soloists are equally talented and make a major contribution. The liner-notes are excellent, with short but pertinent context on all the works. There are good mini-biographies for the performers. Included in the booklet are the texts to the songs by W.B. Yeats, Edmund Spenser and Sarah Teasdale.
Altogether this is a superb CD. I am surprised that reviews of this album seem few and far between. I was impressed by virtually every work and hope that each will find a suitable place in the repertoire of the artists concerned and venture out into the wider world.
Superb. I was impressed by virtually every work.