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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)

Just by way of an introduction to this CD here are some words from the composer, written in August 2016: “I am a comparative latecomer to writing instrumental music, having devoted most of my creative life to choral and vocal composition. The works on this album are all written over the last decade, with the exception of my Violin Concerto which plunders material from an incomplete Violin Sonata written when I was eighteen. As well as the Violin Concerto this album includes: my darkly chromatic Clarinet Quintet, The Better Angels of our Nature, a short concerto for oboe and strings; and Goodfellow for flute, oboe and piano. They are presented chronologically and I hope the listener will detect a logical sequence in their development” I reviewed an earlier release (NIMBUS NI6274) of Richard Blackford’s unusual The Great Animal Orchestra Symphony and found the music to be atmospheric, dramatic and populist in its approach. This CD offers more of the same - although not to be classed as “easy listening” the composer has the enviable knack of making an immediate impact on the listener and his approachable music can be enjoyed on its first hearing.

The Violin Concerto opens with a trumpet solo that has an American feel to it. Some passages are also reminiscent of Copland and Barber with just a hint of Walton thrown in for good measure. The central Andante is the most substantial movement, running for 10 minutes. With the subtitle Fantasia on a Russian Chant this features the solo violin accompanied by the string section of the orchestra. The melodic material may be Russian in origin but the overall impression sounds as if the composer has been inspired by the English string music tradition. Vaughan Williams isn’t far away and the rapture of Tippett’s Corelli Fantasia can be heard in the chromatic harmonies produced by the divided strings. The opening to the final Vivace is reminiscent of folk music but this is Hungarian in nature rather than British. A rather beautiful, lyrical theme at the centre of the movement gives way to a cadenza and an exuberant sprint to the finish.

Although not strictly programme music, the three movements of the Clarinet Quintet are inspired by scenes from Caradog Prichard’s novel Full Moon. A soft lyrical theme links the three movements together. The second movement also makes use of the Welsh hymn tune Cyffamod with telling effect. The lively outer movements are bittersweet in nature and the music, pregnant with ideas, always sounds as if it is going somewhere. The Better Angels of our Nature is another demonstration of the composer’s ability to write for the strings. The first section of this concerto is based on fanfare motifs, initially heard as distant cries and then building to a dynamic, fleetfooted Allegro. After a brief climax the oboe plays a hushed version of the bugle call Taps that is traditionally used at funerals or at sunset. The ensuing section of peace and reconciliation is elegiac and creates the sort of atmosphere that can also be heard in Copland’s Quiet City. The last work on the disc, Goodfellow (aka Puck) is certainly Puckish in nature. The music is mischievous, entertaining and lively. There are also some passages of trance-like magic. The romantic duet for oboe and flute in the first movement is superb. You can’t keep a good man down for long though and Puck returns with a vengeance in the Allegro moltobringing the work to a quicksilver conclusion.

This is a really enjoyable disc containing four memorable and entertaining pieces. The performances are all expertly done with fine contributions from the soloists. Although recorded at four different venues between 2008 and 2015 the sound quality is consistently fresh and appealing.

John Whitmore

Previous reviews: Paul Corfield Godfrey ~ Rob Barnett


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