My introduction to the music of Christopher Wright was his Oboe Concerto
released on Dutton Epoch CDLX 7249 (review)
alongside works by Cecil Armstrong Gibbs, Cyril Scott and Elis Pehkonen.
I was immediately impressed and looked forward to hearing more of
his music. In the same year Dutton Epoch issued a strong retrospective
of Wright’s orchestral works - Evocation CDLX 7240
They also issued two important pieces: Momentum (2008) and
the Violin Concerto (2010) on CDLX 7286 coupled with the revised version
of RVWs Symphony No. 5 edited by Dr Peter Horton. In 2007 a CD of
chamber and vocal works had been released on Merlin Classics MRFD
I have not heard this last CD.
Christopher Wright (website)
was born in Ipswich, Suffolk in 1954. Much of his life has been spent
living and working in East Anglia. He studied composition with Richard
Arnell and later Alan Bullard. In 1993 he gave up his post as a schoolmaster
and turned to full-time composition. Wright’s music features
a wide variety of genres including colourful orchestral works and
concertos for violin, cello and horn. He has contributed to the brass
band repertoire as well a selection of anthems, songs and chamber
works. Wright’s first performed score was the Kyson Point
Suite in Ipswich Town Hall in 1971. Kyson Point is a lovely reed-fringed
place on the Suffolk coast near Woodbridge. He is also an accomplished
performer, playing the trombone and the piano, as well as being a
I am beholden to the composer’s liner-notes for details of the
music. As I understand it, all these works are first recordings. The
Wind Quintet (1993) gets this CD off to a great start. Perhaps the
most edgy piece here, it was composed shortly after Wright experienced
two ‘life changing events’ – one unpleasant and
the other ‘very beautiful’. He describes it as ‘desolation
followed by new life’. The Quintet reflects the former mood.
A verse from W.B. Yeats' poem ‘The Second Coming’
has given a focus to this music – ‘The ceremony of innocence
is drowned’. The composer adds that the progress of the Quintet
is based around the interval of an augmented fourth (c-f#) –
the ‘diabolus.’ This derives from the medieval admonition
against using the tritone in composition – ‘The Devil
in Music’. The early part of the score is characterised by gloom
and despondency, but very slowly and subtly this begins to change.
The work ends on a slightly more positive note — the journey
is (nearly) complete. Wright makes use of a judicious blend of dissonance
and instrumental devices to present the mood of despair.
Spring’s Garden for viola and piano is a beautiful
piece that was written for the composer’s wife in 2006. Tragically,
she was to die three years later. The work’s aim is to capture
‘a typical picture viewed from my music room window …
of birds scampering amongst wild flowers in spring.’ Nothing
could be further in mood from the Wind Quintet. Although this music
has a strange, prophetic sadness in its pages, there is much that
is positive and reflects more of a thanksgiving than a memorial. This
is a truly lovely piece that is worthy of being in the viola repertoire.
I enjoyed Orfordness for flute, violin, cello and piano.
It was composed around 1997. It is written to explore the paradox
between man’s potential for destructiveness and nature’s
constantly shifting tidal surges: Orfordness in Suffolk was home to
a Cold War military base as well as being a wildlife paradise. The
music is almost ‘Messiaenic’ in its exploration of timelessness.
The 9½ minutes seem to simultaneously fly by as well as appearing
to last for an eternity. The musical language is always interesting,
with the composer showing no fear of using dissonance and edgy rhythms.
Capriccio for clarinet and piano has nothing of the unfathomable
dichotomy of good and evil attached to it. As the title implies, this
is an exploration of ‘spontaneity and joy’. The composer
states that it is written in a neo-classical style. The harmonies
are often acerbic, but a definite lyrical mood pervades much of this
music. It is a remarkable piece that balances poetry with hedonism.
The three-movement Spirit of the Dance for recorder, violin,
cello and harpsichord (2005) was commissioned by the composer Elis
Pehkonen. It is designed to be played by Baroque instrumental forces.
The music successfully explores a sprightly ‘réjouissance’
followed by a thoughtful ‘air’ and a concluding ‘Addams
Family’ (remember Lurch’s performance on the harpsichord)
inspired ‘tarantella’, designed to chase the spider or
other spooky creatures away. This suite is intended as homage to the
Baroque idiom rather than being a pastiche or parody. In this it is
I cannot say that I enjoyed the only vocal piece on this CD. It is
entitled The Long Wait and is based on a poem written by
the composer: the work was composed after the death of Wright’s
father around 2006. I concede that there are some lovely elements
to both the vocal line and the piano accompaniment. The recorder does
not add value and seems to clash with Lesley-Jane Rogers’ beautiful
voice. On the whole The Long Wait is just that: long-winded
and a little disjointed and lacking stylistic unity. All that said,
I do hope to hear more of Wright’s vocal music in the future.
In Celebration (2013) was composed for the 70th
birthday of the well-known recorderist (and doyen of North-West music-making)
John Turner. It is written in three short movements for recorder,
violin, viola and cello. The first movement is inspired by jazzy rhythms
and a ‘lazy suburban Sunday afternoon’ mood. I agree with
the composer that there is a ‘mysticism’ about the ‘misterioso’
movement: it makes for a relaxing and thoughtful respite before the
concluding riotous syncopations of the ‘presto con forza’.
This is altogether a most enjoyable and attractive work that must
surely find its way into recorderists’ repertoire.
Helter Skelter lives up to its title. I imagined swirly music
emulating a dizzy turn down the once-loved fairground attraction and
that is what the composer delivers in this short ‘character
piece’ for cello and piano. However, even a casual hearing of
this work will reveal a little more depth to this music. There is
a reflective middle-section that is maybe a little scared about making
the downward trip on the helter-skelter or of life itself? There are
one or two examples of musical ‘word-painting’ in this
piece that are quite fun.
The final piece on this disc is the Concertino for violin,
viola and piano written in 1985 for the Cheltenham International Violin
Course. The composer states that it was written to ‘celebrate’
the tercentenaries of Bach, Handel and Domenico Scarlatti (1685).
The music, although not a parody of any of these composers, was written
in a neo-baroque style. The first and last movements are full of life
and vigour, whereas the middle ‘tranquillo’ is a profound
and ageless meditation. The entire work is masterly in its instrumentation
and the piano part does add so much interest: I am glad the composer
did not choose to use the harpsichord. I wonder if it could successfully
be reworked as a Concertino for piano and string orchestra?
The CD is an excellent production that combines a judicious selection
of chamber works with excellent performances by all the players. The
sound quality is ideal and gives the best possible opportunity for
listeners to approach these unfamiliar works. The liner-notes are
detailed and useful as well as being legible. Notes on the musicians
are given as well as a biographical sketch of the composer. A short
list is appended showing how ‘The Gifts of Pandora’ relate
to each of these pieces. It is for the listener to discover this relationship
when they buy this excellent CD: I will reveal that the opening Wind
Quintet displays her gift of ‘Destruction’ and the final
Concertino that of ‘Music’.
Christopher Wright’s musical style can easily be categorised
as ‘largely tonal with atonal flavourings’. It is never
insipid, always displays interest and clear evidence of controlled
development. It is approachable, even if occasionally a little challenging.
Naturally, any listener will relate to various pieces to a greater
or lesser extent however I have found nothing that is not written
with consummate skill and not inconsiderable inspiration.
Nichola Hunter (flute); Lisa Osborne (oboe); Elizabeth Jordan (clarinet);
Naomi Atherton (horn); Sarah Nixon (bassoon); Richard Howarth, Nicholas
Ward, Catherine Muncey (violins); Richard Williamson, Michael Dale
(viola); Tim Smedley (cello); Lesley-Jane Rogers (soprano); John Turner
(recorder); Harvey Davies (harpsichord); Jonathan Fisher (piano).
rec. St Thomas’ Church, Stockport, Cheshire, UK, 27 September
2013 (Spirit of the Dance); 19 October 2013 (Capriccio,
The Long Wait, In Celebration, Helter Skelter
and Orfordness); 20 October 2013 (Concertino, Spring’s
Garden and Wind Quintet)