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Anthony RITCHIE (b. 1960)
Remember Parihaka Op. 61 (1994) [8:10]
Flute Concerto Op. 56 (1993) [19:24]
Double Concerto for bass clarinet and cello Op. 93 (1999) [19:45]
Coming to it, for narrator and orchestra with poems by Sam Hunt Op. 91 (1999) [17:50]
Alexa Still (flute), Katherine Hebley (cello), Andrew Uren (bass clarinet), Sam Hunt (narrator)
Auckland Chamber Orchestra/Peter Scholes
rec. no details supplied
ATOLL ACD129 [65:14]

Anthony Ritchie is a well-established and prolific New Zealand composer. He has written four symphonies, the last of which, Stations, commemorates the destruction of Christchurch Cathedral by an earthquake in 2011 (review here). He has also written many concertos and several operas. He has been reasonably well recorded: you can get some of his recordings through MusicWeb International and others from the composer’s own website. He composes in an attractive tonal idiom, with catchy tunes, rhythmic drive, frequent syncopation and light, rather transparent orchestration. He reminds me a little of Walton but more of William Mathias but this is just to give some idea of his style: he is his own man.

This recording dates from 2009 but has only recently become easily available in the UK. The opening work, Remember Parihaka, commemorates the crushing of a non-violent Maori protest at the confiscation of their land by British settlers in 1881. It is an important episode in New Zealand history. A sombre opening leads to a brisk, catchy but melancholy Maori theme on flutes which is followed by a violin passage which represents the British. A good deal of rhythmic energy builds up, reinforced by syncopation and bangs on the bass drum. The violins take over the flute theme. A brief climax leads to a quiet ending. This is a beautiful piece, perhaps a strange thing to say about what is in effect a protest work, but it is.

The flute concerto is cheerful with the flute prominent from the beginning. The first movement is alternately chirpy and lyrical, lightly scored and with a cadenza for the solo flute. The second movement begins rather strangely with a solo for the bass clarinet. The solo flute then joins in a dialogue which leads to a long solo, eventually joined by strings. The finale returns to the mood of the first movement, though with some striking modulations. This has apparently become Ritchie’s most popular work and the solo part is here played by Alexa Still, for whom it was written.

Others have written concertos for the bass clarinet and it is indeed a most attractive solo instrument. It can vie with the cello, here its partner, in lyrical passages, it can gurgle charmingly and it can also thump in incisive rhythms like the left hand of the piano. It was a bit risky partnering it with another bass instrument but this concerto was written for the two soloists here. I have to say that the bass clarinet rather steals the show. It opens the concerto and we then settle down to what would be a march except that it is in triple time. There is Sibelian string passage and the tinkling of a glockenspiel leads to a quiet end. The following Fast Dance is just that, in which the two soloists chase each other, egged on by the orchestra. The slow movement, a memorial for a friend, is just for the two soloists, which descend to their lowest depths. The finale allows a note of anguish to break into its irrepressible momentum, which takes the concept of a waltz beyond anything which dancers would find comfortable. I can imagine bass clarinet players after hearing this beating a path to their music directors’ office with a cellist in tow asking them to programme this work ... I hope they succeed.

Prolific composers are allowed some duds and I am afraid that Coming to It seems one to me. Works for narrator speaking over instruments are notoriously tricky to bring off. One such is Walton’s Façade, which seems a distant ancestor of this work. But Sam Hunt’s poems are not particularly intriguing and Ritchie’s music here seems little more than illustrative.

However, the other three works are all attractive and the double concerto is a real discovery. The soloists are those for whom the works were written and the Auckland Chamber Orchestra under Peter Scholes plays with energy and commitment. The recording is clear but the booklet is skimpy in the extreme and does not include the words of Sam Hunt’s poems. There is more information on Ritchie’s own website and I am delighted to have discovered this enjoyable composer.

Stephen Barber



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