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Carey BLYTON (1932-2002)
A Shoal Of Fishes
A Shoal of Fishes for solo pedal harp Op. 88 [11.08]
A Catch for Wind Instruments op. 49 (flute, oboe, clarinet, horn, bassoon) (1965-66) [21.17]
Five Diversions op. 1b (arr. flute, oboe, clarinet, horn, bassoon) Op. 1b [13.47]
Carp in the Rain for vibraphone op. 86 [4.27]
The Indian Coffee House Roof Garden Orchestra - Last Tango in Pondicherry for wind quartet op. 92b arr. for Wind Quartet [1.53]
A Little Trio for Wind Instruments arr. flute, clarinet and bassoon op. 18b (1977) [5.15]
Chameleon Arts Wind Quintet
Harriet Adie (harp)
Derek Foster (vibraphone)
Ian Partridge (narrator)
rec. 4 April and 31 May 2016, St. Martin’s Church, East Woodhay, Hampshire
SLEEVELESS SLV1012 [55.50]

What could be better? — a CD of music, often inspired by the natural world, by a man who had originally intended to study zoology at degree level and who had, later in life, gained a love of Asian culture. All of these things are neatly reflected in this latest, beautifully presented release of his music - this time for wind and for harp.

I have a letter dated 22 May 1986 from Carey Blyton. It was written a year after he had returned from a six month Asian sabbatical. There he tells me “funnily enough, I have been writing and arranging much wind music recently and have found it rather therapeutic considering that I have not felt too well of late.” He also sent me copies of articles, one by Hilton Gough entitled ‘Carey Blyton: A Survey of his Wind Music’ (1978) and one by the late Paul Harvey ‘Carey Blyton: An Appreciation of his woodwind Music’ (1973). Interestingly, a decade later, a CD of Blyton’s saxophone works appeared: ‘The Return of Bulgy Gogo’ (Upbeat URCD206 - review). He then became quite well known for his clarinet and sax pieces. That, I thought, was that. I had little idea, or I had forgotten, that even more of his wind music was lurking around.

He gave me a copy of his Op. 1 Piano Pieces Diversions. In it he wrote ‘Moral: Never throw anything away’. He had kept these pieces unpublished until John Mitchell, the brains behind ‘Modus Music’, suggested that they should be published. Blyton revised them and soon after made an arrangement for wind quintet. This tended to be his modus operandi - to make every one of his pieces earn its keep and to have an existence in various formats. For example, in A Little Trio for Wind Instruments, the middle movement ‘Brittany Beach’ can also be found in his Suite for String Orchestra, On Holiday. It had already existed in a version for solo piano. Other composers including Warlock (much loved by Blyton) and Robin Milford adopted this scheme to a certain extent but Blyton was assiduous in re-arranging earlier pieces. It’s worth saying however, especially in the case of the Diversions, that they are not note-for-note transcriptions. Counterpoints are added or sometimes removed, the occasional bar may appear as an addition and octave alterations are made turning the resulting piece into totally idiomatic wind quintet music.

Carey Blyton was in Sri Lanka and India from December 1984 to May 1985 but his interest in the Far East pre-dates that visit. The harp piece which opens the CD, A Shoal of Fishes, composed in 1983 uses various forms of Japanese scales known as soft and hard and other scales relating to Japanese court music. These have been helpfully set out in the booklet by Peter Thompson (of Fand Music Press) whose knowledge of Blyton’s work and musical personality is second to none, largely because he has published not only some of Blyton’s music but also his ‘Collected Stories’ (2002), which I have reviewed. The brief Indian Coffee House Roof Garden Orchestra Tango originally for piano duet was also a product of Blyton’s trip to India as Thompson explains in the notes. Other music related to his interest could be mentioned: Two Japanese Pieces from 1974 and Yugen of 1978 both for solo guitar and recorded on Apollo Sound ASCD203.

Carey Blyton’s lifelong interest in zoology and the natural world made him an ideal person to commission to write incidental music for programmes on that subject. An example is Flying Birds for saxophone quartet which was written for an RSPB film. However, so far as this CD is concerned, it is fish that interest us; the booklet is delightfully littered with coloured drawings of various fish by Utagawa Hiroshige, a Japanese artist of the early nineteenth century and has been beautifully designed by Richard Hallas. A Catch for Wind Instruments refers to a bag of twenty-one different species, book-ended by a Prelude and Postlude. It uses the medieval melody ‘Sumer is icumen in’.

A Shoal of Fishes for pedal harp is a set of nine movements with the Japanese names of fish provided for each. English is also given. There's a wonderfully evocative work for solo vibraphone, Carp in the Rain, recorded and so expertly played here by its dedicatee Derek Foster – a direct link to the composer.

I’ve come to realise that in many ways there are two Carey Blytons. One might think of him as an almost frivolous miniaturist producing little pieces like the above Tango or the guitar duet Chit-Chat but there is also a serious and experimental side that uses exploratory harmonies and instrumental techniques. We discover this aspect of his character in some parts of A Shoal of Fishes where in movement 1 the harpist is instructed to play ‘battuta’ (using the instrument like a drum). In movement 3 there are several rather aggressive glissandi creating a feeling of the jumping shrimp. In movement 4 we have a passage of parallel augmented chords for the Shima-hata fish “from the deep bay water”. In movement 7 it is as if the lower strings are being scraped and the music therefore sounds pitchless. This is for the ‘Bora or common Grey Mullet’ who when ‘Thunder shakes the water … takes fright”.

A Catch for Wind Instruments uses serial technique which Blyton rather despised (as in the Bullhead fish which “is of not pleasing shape”) also polytonality, oriental scales and aleatoric techniques. This is in the expectation that young players and amateurs, for whom this music may not be too technically difficult, might learn not to be too frightened of these so-called modern ideas. Each very brief musical ‘description’, if I can call it that, is prefaced by a short narrative taken from Izaak Walton’s evergreen ‘The Compleat Angler’. These are spoken in a witty manner by Ian Partridge who, incidentally, recorded some of Blyton’s songs in 2002 (“Lyrics from the Chinese” Upbeat URCD 179). Not all are scored for the full quintet and alternative parts are provided in the published score. For example the ‘Eel’ is played by solo bassoon and the ‘Rudd’ by a solo flute.

The performances, it seems to me, could not be bettered. The young harpist Harriet Adie - like all the performers, pictured within the booklet - plays with character and total understanding. The Chameleon Arts Wind Quintet are not only superbly balanced but also spaciously recorded. They all clearly enjoyed the Blyton experience. My only regret is that I wish the disc lasted much longer.
Gary Higginson

Another review ...

Produced on the Sleeveless Records label this disc is the exquisitely colourful fruit of a collaboration between the Carey Blyton Trust and Peter Thompson's Fand Music Press.

The music speaks of a salubrious and dignified creative imagination. Carey Blyton knew music's art and craftsman's measure and wrote nothing ugly or dull or at odds with art or craft. These première recordings bear this out as do the many other CDs of his music which can be had via Fand Music's website. The seven Upbeat Blyton CDs can also be ordered directly from Upbeat. He wrote many well-attuned miniatures but his works for orchestra are also estimable; try this Dutton album. One of the gaps in the catalogue is a CD entirely devoted to Blyton's works for orchestra. The other is a recording of Blyton's opera The Girl from Nogami, another expression of Blyton's fascination with the East and specifically with Japan.

The physical CD in this case is a deluxe production with an attractive ‘picture disc’ label. There is a 16-page full-colour booklet that includes extensive music notes. It also gives the text of the poems that inspired some of the music and there are ample illustrations of the Hiroshige watercolours that inspired some of the musical settings. It's an alluring production all-round although seeing all this compressed into CD-scale makes one lament the passing of vinyl. Had the text and illustrations been of LP-sleeve size the impact would have been even greater.

A Shoal of Fishes is A Suite of Nine Miniatures for Pedal Concert Harp after prints by Hiroshige (1797–1858) and anonymous poems of the period. It was written for the Lloyds Bank National Composers’ Award Competition in 1988. The miniature movements are: 1. Tobiuwo (Flying fish); 2. Suzuki (Sea-perch); 3. Ebi (Shrimp); 4. Shima-hata (Grouper); 5. Ai (Trout); 6. Akodai/Kurodai (Red bream or golden tai/Black seabream or porgy); 7. Bora (Gray mullet); 8. Koi (Carp); 9. Saba/Hirosaba or marusaba (Mackerel). Harriet Adie's harp, most touchingly and vividly recorded takes us through waters, salt, brackish and fresh, into Ravel-like mysteries, dark reef caves, spiny-finned wonders, ominous rasping and sun-filled, calm, shallows.

A Catch for Wind Instruments is in twenty-three short movements (in three sets). The link with the previous work is twofold: the brevity of the component parts and the images of fish, twenty-one of them in all. The music is all imaginative and contented innocence without a dissonant edge to bruise the ears. Even the predatory Pike is portrayed with only a fragile shudder to disturb the effect. Each of the movements is preceded by a descriptive line or two spoken by the great tenor Ian Partridge whose CDs of Blyton's songs are a distinguished presence in the catalogue.

The Five Diversions are an arrangement for Wind Quintet of earlier works. The music is peaceable, subtly textured and blessed. The sequence ends with a Little Waltz which is dedicated to Blyton's piano teacher of his teenage years. It would go well in concert with Ibert's Trois Pièces Brèves.

The enchanting brevity that is Carp in the Rain is for vibraphone. It is here played by Derek Foster. Its magical, precise yet fragile sounds ring out in a drizzly thoughtful amble.

The Indian Coffee House Roof Garden Orchestra Tango is another miniature among all these miniatures. It is sub-titled Last Tango in Pondicherry. This wind quartet arrangement is sly, seductive and touched with elegant wit.

We end with the three contrasting little movements that make up A Little Trio for Wind Instruments - here flute, clarinet and bassoon. The whole thing is over in a trice. The stroll that is the central Brittany Beach movement is especially memorable.

A rewarding present at many levels.

Rob Barnett



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