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Marcus BLUNT (b.1947)
Piano Concerto (1992/95) [27:29]
Aspects of Saturn for String Orchestra [6:50]
Concertino for Bassoon and String Orchestra (2016) [11:47]
Symphony No.2 (2002) [16:54]
Murray McLachlan (piano)
Lesley Wilson (bassoon)
Manchester Camerata/Stephen Threlfall
rec. 2016, Concert Hall, Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester
MÉTIER MSV28570 [63:21]

The British composer Marcus Blunt was born in Birmingham in 1947 and studied composition at the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth, graduating in 1970. I was interested to read that he’s had a number of diverse occupations including warehouse packer, photographic processor and department manager at a music publishers. He’s also spent some time teaching woodwind instruments in Derby. He now lives north of the Border and, since 1997, has been Honorary Composer-in-Residence for the Dumfries Music Club. This isn’t my first encounter with his music. For a while I’ve enjoyed Aspirations, a disc of his piano music performed by Murray McLachlan, the soloist in the Piano Concerto (review). The orchestral music featured here is tonally based, lyrically romantic, embracing a modern idiom yet eminently approachable.

The Piano Concerto was written between 1992-1995. The lush chromaticism that runs throughout is reminiscent of Scriabin. The opening movement combines dreamy elements with tension. The introspective Largo follows without a break. An atmosphere of mystery and portent pervades, and the bleak atmosphere, effected by sparse orchestration, is chilling. At the end the music settles into calm and serenity. The finale is upbeat, and the buoyant rhythms instil some verve and vigour. Blunt, as I have mentioned, found a champion in Murray McLauchlan, who had recorded the composer’s piano music for the Dunelm label. The pianist has the full measure of the ebb and flow of this work, and delivers a persuasive account.

Aspects of Saturn for string orchestra is not dated in the notes. It’s a brief work, just shy of seven minutes. Blunt derives his inspiration for the score from two texts by Keats and Virgil, both telling of Saturn’s contradictory psyche. The Roman god of agriculture, Saturnus, was civilization’s founder. In astrology, Saturn represents self-discipline, self-consciousness, limitation, perseverance, ambition and aspiration. The music is stark and desolate at its opening, then becomes more animated and eloquently elaborate. At the end it wanes and dies away to almost nothing.

The first incarnation of the Concertino for Bassoon and string orchestra was as a four-movement sonata for bassoon and piano written in 1989. Blunt decided to draw on its strengths and widen its appeal by arranging the piano part for string orchestra and adding a fifth movement into the bargain. The movements display an array of emotional diversity from playful effervescence and capricious humour to thoughtful reflection. Lesley Wilson captures the very essence of this attractive score, and is served with an ideal balance between bassoon and strings in the mix.

The Second Symphony started life in 1991 as a five-movement work, with its instrumentation based on that of Schuber’s Octet. It was a commission for the Wigton Festival in Cumbria. It had the intriguing title The Throstle-Nest in Spring. Blunt refashioned the work in 2002 for a modest-sized orchestra, and it became his Symphony No. 2. Unusually, three of the movements are titled Allegretto, with an elegiac Andante as the second movement. The Allegrettos are angular and melodically bountiful. Throughout, the orchestration sounds lightly-textured and airy.

This valuable release provides a fascinating conspectus of the composer’s orchestral music. The performances are uniformly excellent from the Manchester Camerata under their inspirational conductor Stephen Threlfall. I must make special mention of their confident and stylish playing and immaculate ensemble. The engineers have captured an attractive bloom to the sound. The well-informed liner notes, though in English only, are the icing on the cake.

Stephen Greenbank
Previous review: John France



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