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Richard BLACKFORD (b.1954)
Violin Concerto (2007) [23:24]
Clarinet Quintet (2009) [19:03]
The Better Angels of Our Nature - concerto for oboe and strings (2013) [14:54]
Goodfellow for flute, oboe and piano (2015) [10:00]
Maria Gajdosova (violin), David Campbell (clarinet), Solstice Quartet; Emily Pailthorpe (oboe); Daniel Pailthorpe (flute); Julian Milford (piano)
Brno Philharmonic/Richard Blackford
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Martyn Brabbins
rec. 26 Sept 2008, Besedni Dum, Brno (Concerto); 15 Oct 2011, Westminster School (Clarinet Quintet); 15-16 Oct 2015, BBC Maida Vale (Better Angels); 10-11 Nov 2015, Music Room, Champs Hill (Goodfellow)
NIMBUS NI6338 [67:21]

English composer Richard Blackford studied at London's RCM where his conducting tutor was Norman Del Mar. Later he worked as an assistant to Henze. There are said to be four operas and two musicals along with scores for 200 films. These days he is perhaps best known for his large scale choral-orchestral works such as Voices of Exile (review review), Mirror of Perfection (review review) and Not in Our Time. His orchestral and chamber works are comparatively new on the scene although he prepared the way with his Nimbus project The Great Animal Orchestra Symphony and the short pastoral delight that is Spirited, written for the English Music Festival. The four instrumental works heard here were written over the last ten years.

The composer tells us that this compact Violin Concerto plundered material from an incomplete Violin Sonata written when he was eighteen. The three-movement score is a passionate piece but not in any way prolix. There are no cryptic moments or at least none that registered with me. It's lyrical, lush and emotionally direct-speaking. If you enjoy the Walton or the Barber then there will be no obstacles to immersing yourself in this music. It is played with surefooted engagement by Maria Gajdosova and the conductor is the composer.

The 20-minute Clarinet Quintet is said by the composer to be 'darkly chromatic'. I wouldn't dissent. It's a more equivocally nuanced work than the Violin Concerto with haunting psychological overtones. It has its lilting beauties - well handled by David Campbell - as you may expect from a clarinet quintet but there are depths here and some are very dark indeed. The Quintet is based on Caradog Pritchard's novel Full Moon which recounts a disturbed childhood in Bethesda and around the slate quarries of North Wales. Each movement moves into black dissonance and sinister tragedy. The work is rounded with a sleep but it is a troubled slumber and is superbly advocated by Campbell and the Solstice Quartet.

The title of the single-movement quarter-hour oboe concerto that is The Better Angels of Our Nature is taken from a speech of reconciliation by Abraham Lincoln. The highly adept writing for strings has a fittingly American breath - rather reminiscent of Roy Harris at his outdoors best. It is a searing work although the oboe - here played by Emily Pailthorpe - redeems it with dancing urgency and with hushed majesty. Do sample Pailthorpe's immensely skilled distanced fanfares at 7:00 which, for me, link with those recalled in Vaughan Williams' Pastoral Symphony. There are these stilly moments but this work as a whole is by no means the song of blue sky contentment I had expected from the title.

Back to chamber music dimensions for Goodfellow. The music found its inspiration in the Puck of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. It's in two movements with the first a predominantly romping Stravinskian rush recalling the Petrushka pulse of the first movement of the Violin Concerto. The slightly more static introspection of the second gives way to a more temperate leaf-green and magical fancy but the piece ends with a return to the rhythmic virility of the earlier movement.

There are full and useful notes from the composer - both a general foreword and more detailed essays on each work.

Blackford, the composer for instrumental forces, presents his emotionally fluent music. It has depths as well as accessible oratory. It is well served here both in performance and engineering terms.

Rob Barnett

Previous review: Paul Corfield Godfrey



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