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Paul CARR (b. 1961)
Crowded Streets
Concerto for Clarinet and Small Orchestra (1997) [14:22]
Occasional Postcards for wind quintet and strings (1993) [13:59]
Concerto for Two Saxophones and orchestra (1994) [17:09]
Girl on a Beach under a Sunshade (1994) [5:01]
Collage – Concerto in one movement (1998) [15:19]
Nocturne on an American Hymn Tune (for Cy) (1998) [4:01]
Nicholas Carpenter (clarinet)
Andrew Sutton (saxophone, clarinet), Andrew Franks (saxophone)
Joseph Laurent (flute), Adrian Roach (oboe), Duncan Fuller (horn), Sarah Martin (bassoon), Huw Jones (bassoon)
Sussex Symphony Orchestra/Mark Andrew-James
rec. St Bartholomew's Church, Brighton, 1998
CLAUDIO CC4833-2 [69:54]

It came as a surprise to me when I discovered that this hugely enjoyable CD of music by Paul Carr had been reviewed for MusicWeb International by Rob Barnett way back in October 2001. I honestly thought I was getting first crack at a brand-new disc. I have reviewed a few CDs of Paul Carr’s music: somehow the original release of this one must have passed beyond my ken. But late is much better than never: it has been a rewarding experience to explore these six charming, interesting, and thoroughly entertaining works.

There are two levels of music on this CD. Firstly, what I have called ‘Suburban Sunday’ music. I coined this phrase after playing through a suite of piano pieces by Philip Lane called Leisure Lanes which included a piece of that title. On the other side of the coin, there is a more neo-classically inclined style to Carr’s music, not quite Poulenc, but certainly ‘cool’ and musically competent.

The first of the two-major works on this CD is the Concerto for Clarinet and Small Orchestra which was composed in 1997 and dedicated to the present soloist, Andrew Franks. Paul Carr writes that it is one of his own personal favourites. The small orchestra is literally a chamber ensemble, comprising wind quintet, trumpet, harp and only seven strings. Written in a typically ‘suburban stroll’ style of music this piece has echoes of Gerald Finzi and Eric Coates (Barnett 2001). The opening movement fairly bowls along, with only a few moments of repose. The restrained cadenza leads gently into a thoughtful coda. The middle movement is both sad and reflective whilst not lacking optimism. This is the gorgeous heart of the work, and features a pretty tune, which dominates the proceedings. The finale has a touch of the toccata about it. Nevertheless, there are some relaxed sub-jazzy moments, and contrasting episodes which are quite delicious. Altogether a most satisfying concerto, splendidly played.

I relished the Occasional Postcards for wind quintet and strings which was composed in 1993. It is written for wind quintet and strings. The liner notes tell that this work has become one of Carr’s most frequently performed works: at least it was in 2001. The concept of the work is five short ‘postcards’ depicting ‘memorable occasions’ in the composer’s life. These include: ‘Through Crowded Streets’, referring to Brighton on a busy Saturday morning; ‘Bicycles in the Summer Rain’, reflecting a day spent in Kensington Gardens; back to Brighton for the self-explanatory romp of ‘The Boys on the Beach’, ‘Summer Evening’ recalling an evening in an orangery on L’Īle Saint Louis in Paris and finally ‘Tuscan Diary’ which recollects a ‘seductive frisson’, the ‘brightness of Florence and the warm passion of Italy. Delightful.

My favourite work in this CD is the moody, groovy, Concerto for Two Saxophones and Orchestra dating from 1994. I have no doubt that this work would be a strong crowd pleaser at any concert that was not hidebound by excessively highbrow expectations. The work was written expressly for the present soloists Andrew Franks and Andrew Sutton. Carr has suggested a listening strategy for this work: ‘I like to think of it as a dialogue between the two solo instruments as a love affair…’ It is a good way of approaching this tempting three-movement work. Especially appealing, is the lovely second movement, ‘andante cantabile.’

I guess that I was a wee bit disappointed with Girl on a Beach under a Sunshade, a miniature for bassoon and orchestra. This piece was inspired by an evocative sketch made by Sir Alfred Munnings of the composer’s great aunt, Gwenneth Jones-Parry, lying on a Cornish beach sometime in 1916. A reproduction of this sketch is provided in the liner notes. This piece is not as impressionistic or languorous as I would have imagined (or liked). In fact, there are some acerbic chords that owe more to the history of the times, rather than an idyll of a beach. Despite this, it is beautifully written and allows the bassoonist full range of his talent. The main theme is beguiling. It should be in the repertoire of all bassoonists.

Collage - concerto in one movement for saxophone, piano and chamber orchestra, is a pleasant ramble for the soloist. This fifteen-minute work is conceived in two discrete sections. The first half is dominated by the saxophone, before the piano takes over at the halfway point. Paul Carr writes that ‘the solo sax sails across a sea of changing colours’: this is probably some of the most classically (modernist) contemporary music on this disc, but not unapproachably so. The second section is ‘more funky and suburban’ in its style. The work was apparently through-composed: beginning with a single idea, then adding a new one with the material continually changing rather than evolving. Hence the title ‘Collages.’ The composer relates that he rarely composes music without a formal plan. The present work really stream-of-consciousness; and none the worse for that.

Rob Barnett has described Nocturne on an American Hymn Tune as ‘chill-out’ music. I agree. There is nothing religious or po-faced about this music. It features drum kit, electric bass, piano (played by the composer) and saxophone. It is a perfect conclusion to this CD. My only complaint about this Nocturne is that it is way too short!

This CD is nicely presented. The liner notes are written by Paul Carr, with additional material about the soloists and the Sussex Symphony Orchestra and their conductor, Mark Andrew-James. I appreciated the ‘moody’ cover by Paula Cox, featuring musicians in the ‘groove.’ I consider that all these pieces were well-played, with exceptional performances by the soloists.

John France

Previous review: Rob Barnett



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