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Douglas YOUNG (b.1947)
Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark (an agony in 8 fits)
Peter Easton (narrator)
Douglas Young (piano and percussion)
Leicestershire Chorale
Leicestershire Schools Symphony Orchestra (members)/Peter Fletcher
rec. 14 March 1982
British Composer Premiere Collections: Volume 9

This is the second CD featuring Douglas Young as composer/performer to have appeared from the adventurous Cameo Classics label in the last few weeks. I was very enthusiastic about his Dreamtiger album East West Encounters (Cameo CC9018CD) especially the performance of the wonderful Vox Balaenae by George Crumb. On this new disc we have Young working with a group of front desk players from the Leicestershire Schools Symphony Orchestra. He was the composer-in-residence at the Leicestershire School of Music in the early 1980s and this collaboration with Peter Fletcher was one of the fruits of his labours. During his time there the orchestra also recorded Rain, Steam and Speed and Third Night Journey under the Sea for the Performance label and Virages Region One for Unicorn. Both LPs have long since been deleted.
Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark is an amazing piece of imaginative writing that sounds as if it has come from another world. There’s something absurdly magnetic about this poem with its Boojam, Bandersnatch and Bellman. It’s very rum indeed. This is the second Snark I’ve encountered. The first one was the Mike Batt version, full of lush orchestrations played by the LSO and a cast of pop stars including Roger Daltrey, Deniece Williams and Art Garfunkel. The album wasn’t welcomed in all quarters but I have a soft spot for it and there are at least four memorable songs to be heard. Batt’s Snark takes a romantic view of the poem, set in a landscape of tropical islands and warm oceans. The characters are jovial individuals and his interpretation is tuneful, straightforward and amiable. Young approaches the poem from the opposite end of the telescope. His landscape is dark and desolate with icy seas. There’s not a romantic gesture to be heard. What we have instead is something rather more sinister and menacing. Some sections are quite disturbing in terms of the text and the music that Young has provided to underpin it. It’s strangely uncomfortable and chilling. There are moments of repose and humour along the way but this is music that takes you to an alien environment. Batt is easy on the ear. Young is more challenging and ultimately far more rewarding. His music fits the poem like a glove and along the way we hear the odd quotation or two: Rule Britannia, God Save the Queen and then the opening bassoon motif from Le Sacre are three examples. Silent Night makes a touching appearance towards the catastrophic end to the story. The fifth fit - The Beaver’s Lesson - opens with an extended section from the central Cantata movement of Tippett’s Shires Suite with its hunting horns and manic trumpets. Tippett wrote the suite for the LSSO in the mid-1960s so its appearance here is very apt indeed. It’s a busy score, bristling with ideas and biased towards percussion and woodwind. The musical effect is top heavy in terms of timbre and this is further emphasised by the small numbers in the string section and the clarity of the recording.

The LSSO chamber group consists of 22 players: woodwind (8), brass (3), percussion (6) and strings (5). They are recorded in a very dry, forward acoustic and there is simply no place for any of them to hide. As it turns out there is no need to hide - the playing is good absolute rather than good considering. Young is in splendid form and the whole thing is held together by Peter Fletcher. There are a couple of patches of poor intonation from the chorus but these come and go fairly quickly. The performance by the orchestra is confident, aggressive, driven and exciting. Peter Easton delivers the narration in a deadpan BBC English style. His detached approach suits the coldness of the music very well. The dry acoustic also ensures that you can hear every word. The booklet includes the full text but it’s a shame that one of the many illustrations wasn’t dropped to allow for some information about Young and a players list. They all put in some great work and deserve to be acknowledged (Editor - the production sleeve will include a full performer list). This is a hard CD to describe. It certainly isn’t Peter and the Wolf but my goodness it’s satisfying and entertaining in its own way.

The very opening of the CD jumps out of the speakers like a wakeup call and makes you immediately sit up. There’s nothing lush about the sound but it carries a real punch and the lack of bloom in the recording actually suits the music perfectly. Every strand can be heard. The vinyl transfer by Klassic Haus is up to their usual high standards. I enjoyed this tremendously and I hope that it reaches a wide audience.

John Whitmore