Thomas FORTMANN (b.1951)
Symphony No. 2 Etruria (2009) [33:06]
Robert NELSON (b.1941)
for violin and orchestra (2007) [8:42]
Peter LIEUWEN (b.1953)
Astral Blue
(2006) [11:27]
Percy GRAINGER (1882-1961)
Lincolnshire Posy
(1937) (transcribed for orchestra by Merlin Patterson, 2012) [17:15]
Andrzej Grabiec (violin)
Moores Symphony Orchestra/Franz Anton Krager
rec. 2009-13
METIER MSV28554 [70:35]

The piece that caught my eye (or ear) on this new CD was Percy Grainger’s Lincolnshire Posy. Originally composed for concert wind band, this six movement collection of folk-songs has been brilliantly transcribed for orchestra by Merlin Patterson. The songs were collected by Grainger on wax cylinders from a number of performers in the county. It was first heard in 1937 in the United States.

Grainger wrote that ‘Each number is intended to be a kind of musical portrait of the singer who sang its underlying melody ... a musical portrait of the singer's personality no less than of his habits of song, his regular or irregular wonts of rhythm, his preference for gaunt or ornately arabesque delivery, his contrasts of legato and staccato, his tendency towards breadth or delicacy of tone.’ (The Percy Grainger Companion, 1981). It is not a fantasy or a rhapsody on folksong such as those composed by George Butterworth or Ralph Vaughan Williams.’ The six movements include the songs ‘Lisbon’, ‘Horkstow Grange’, ‘Rufford Park Poachers’, ‘The Brisk Young Sailor’, ‘Lord Melbourne’ and ‘The Lost Lady Found’.

Patterson states that in making this transcription he was assiduous in trying to replicate ‘as closely as possible, Grainger’s mastery of timbre and colour’. The work in its present form was premiered in Chicago during the 2012 Midwest Clinic International Music Conference with the present players. It is a perfectly satisfying piece of music that has been well-transcribed for full orchestra and as such deserves its place in the Grainger canon. I believe that the composer would have been proud of it.

I have not heard of the other three composers in this CD: all three works presented here are interesting, well-wrought and enjoyable.

After the Grainger I listened to Astral Blue by Peter Lieuwen. This was composed in 2006 and is designed to reflect ‘the beauty of our natural earthly and cosmic environment’. Like so many composers in the past, Lieuwen has utilised the ‘B-A-C-H’ motif to generate material for this work. There is also a touch of minimalism here, although there is much traditional development too. The composer concludes his programme note by suggesting that the ‘modal and pandiatonic (marked by the use of the diatonic rather than the chromatic scale as the basic tonal material but without the classical harmonic restrictions) writing … I intended to evoke spiritually uplifting pastoral settings of atmospheric phenomena such as the soft glow of a clear morning sky or the gradual emergence of stars at twilight.’ Whether he succeeds in this poetic fusion is a matter of opinion, but this is an excellent example of a modern impressionistic piece.

Robert Nelson’s Capriccio for violin and orchestra is an effective work that has been designed to reflect the personality of his friend and colleague the violinist Andrzej Grabiec. The liner-notes suggest that he has ‘prodigious technique … a quick wit … and a gift of lyricism.’ The present work successfully explores these character traits. The sound-world of the Capriccio is largely lyrical with hints of Korngold and Berg, however it is not serial. It is a balanced essay that holds the listener’s attention from first to last. There is much here that is humorous and lively, but there is also music of great depth and poetry. Nelson has achieved his stated aim of writing a ‘kind of piece that will interest performers and (that) both moves and entertains the listener.’

I hope that I can be forgiven for initially thinking that Thomas Fortmann’s Etruria was a tribute to the Staffordshire town, one-time centre of the Wedgewood pottery industry. It was not until I read his programme notes that the penny dropped. It is a homage to the composer’s home in Tuscany, Italy which was the historical home of the Etruscans.

I admit that these programme notes tend to obfuscate what is attractive music. Fortmann writes ‘two typical characteristics of (the Etruscans) were the qualitatively meaningful interpretation of quantitatively concrete processes in nature …’ Easier to understand was his reference to ‘the status of music on their everyday life and ceremonies.’

These two concepts have been read in to his symphony – he has reflected his ‘love of various dodecaphonic (serial) conceptions’ tied into ‘a symbolism of numbers through the intervals.’ If all this sounds, as my late father would have said, a little long-haired just listen to the music. Forget the numerology and just enjoy the symphony: there is nothing difficult or particularly challenging here. The work’s dodecaphonic elements do not intrude into what is an attractive, vibrant, colourful and often lyrical work. Certainly, in the final movement these historical Etruscans ‘get into the groove’ with pseudo-swing: this is a long way from Italy and Northern Soul in the Potteries. The symphony is written in four movements and lasts for just over half and hour. It was composed in 2009.

The Moore’s School of Music is part of the University of Houston in Texas. It is a student orchestra with over one hundred members. They are equally at home with modern music and the standard repertoire. At present, it is conducted by Franz Anton Krager who is Director of Orchestral Studies at the college. They give an excellent and accomplished performance of all these varied works.

This is an impressive collection of new music - one new transcription. The quality of the recording is superb and reveals all the light, shade and colour of these works. The liner-notes, written by the composers, are extremely helpful in giving a concise account of each work.

I enjoyed every piece, but my discovery has to be Peter Lieuwen’s imaginative and very beautiful Astral Blue.

John France