Keith STATHAM (1934-2012)
“…of wine and roses”
Adrianna Lis (flute)
Camille White (oboe)
Ben Hoadley (bassoon)
Nicola Baker (horn)
rec. 2011, Gallagher Concert Chamber, University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand
ATOLL ACD881 [67:24]
A couple of months back, if you had asked me whether I’d ever heard of composer, Keith Statham, my answer would have been no.
But then, having just flown into Auckland at the start of a New Zealand tour, I did what most of us probably do soon after settling in – try out the TV in the hotel room. Somehow I landed first on a radio channel broadcasting classical music, and quickly became enthralled by the music playing. I was compelled to listen to it in its entirety – some twenty minutes or so – before discovering its identity. It was, in fact, the Suite for Flute & String Quartet by Keith Statham, the main work on this CD.
Statham was born in the English city of Gloucester, before going on to read English Literature and Music at Cambridge University. He then worked in the recording industry for Decca and Phillips, before becoming General Manager of the Northern Sinfonia Orchestra from 1966-74. He also spent five years as a freelance composer and arranger, before becoming Director of the Hong Kong Arts Festival (1980-87), after which he established a Promotions / Communications Company which became the largest independent company of its kind there. In 2000 the company was bought out, and Statham and family relocated in New Zealand until his death in May 2012, in Auckland. Just a year earlier, Statham released his debut CD on the Auckland-based Atoll label, entitled …of wine and roses – an aptly-named collection of chamber music by a septuagenarian, written late on in life, in the relative peace and quiet of suburban Auckland. They take their name from a line in a poem by the 19th-century English poet, Ernest Dowson (1867-1900) – ‘They are not long, the days of wine and roses’.
While Statham had written a lot of theatre-music in the past, as well as orchestrating and arranging other people’s works, the music on the CD is, as Statham explains in his fascinating and anecdotal sleeve-notes, an entirely personal statement written for his own satisfaction, and unashamedly couched in the charmingly-lyrical English pastoral style of Vaughan Williams and his musical disciples.
The CD opens with Romance No 1, a wistfully-reflective number where shades of John Ireland and Peter Warlock in particular meander peacefully throughout, in a performance that immediately shows off the truly expressive qualities of the Puertas Quartet, an ensemble originally formed in London in 2009, but now with orchestral connections spanning both the London Symphony, and New Zealand Symphony Orchestras, and where the violist hails from, the capital, Wellington.
Happy Days does very much what it says on the tin – a simple confection alternating sections of lightness and joy with those of more serious intent, set in a constantly pulsing rhythmic context. Likewise, Ina original Scottish air is literally no more than that, where Statham liberally adds sufficient Scotch snaps (or Lombard rhythms, in which a short, accented note is followed by a longer one) to mimic the gracing, or ornamentation commonly heard on the bagpipes.
The flute now joins the string quartet in Statham’s four-movement Suite, which opens with a plaintive solo recitative from the wind instrument that could so easily have been penned by Vaughan Williams himself. Strings then enter to provide an initially shifting chromatic accompaniment for the flute’s continuing musings. A middle section cast more in the major ensues, before a reprise of the opening. This effective form of juxtaposition is maintained until the end, with the flute dominating proceeding from the melodic standpoint. The second movement – Andante (Picardy) – opens with a similar short passage for solo flute – before leading into a combined section where the thematic material is more noticeably shared between soloist and strings. The Waltz hints more at the music of Ravel, both in content, and in scoring, where the use of octave-doubling proves especially effective. However, this really comes as little surprise, given that Vaughan Williams and the French composer did spend three months together in 1908 as pupil and master, and where the resulting friendship enriched both their lives and their music. A more up-tempo movement (Allegro Moderato) concludes the Suite, with a distinct dance-like quality, yet where there are clear cyclic links back to previous movements, while the characteristic side-stepping shifting chromaticism is never far away either.
Pastorale is very much as you would expect, though with just the slightest added spice in some of the harmonies and modulations; it is also the longest single movement on the CD. Elena’s Waltz harks back to classical times, cast rather like an easy-going minuet. Such sweet sorrow has some appropriately bitter-sweet harmonic progressions that add to its poignancy. Statham is clearly at home in this medium throughout, with that enviable skill of making the four instruments of a string quartet sound like a full string ensemble when the situation demands.
The oboe is now added to the mix, where its expressive qualities – especially in the hands of oboist Camille White – provide the perfect vehicle for the essentially vocally-conceived line in Song without words, something which it further brings to Landscape No 1, whether in solo, or accompanying mode. There is then a distinctly dark quality to the writing in Black Swan, with the oboe again as the main protagonist, on this occasion enhancing the eerie, and decidedly other-worldly texture,
Landscape No 2 takes up where No 1 left off, giving some attractive lines to the cello along the way, as well as seeking somewhat to extend the harmonic boundaries with some occasionally more daring, yet never compromising progressions. Happy Ending is indeed just that, where the addition of bassoon and horn to the string quartet this time brings exactly the right effect – namely the bassoon’s familiar penchant for humour, and the horn’s great ability for sustained melody – all in all the perfect track to end on.
Statham concludes his sleeve-notes with the following sentence: ‘I write the sort of music that I like to listen to, and pieces that I hope other people will enjoy too.’ If you subscribe to his philosophy, then you will surely find a great deal to savour and enjoy in this exceptionally well-played and equally-finely-recorded CD. If, on the other hand, you prefer a far more challenging way to spend over an hour listening to music, then perhaps you might consider looking elsewhere, even though, and rather like the antipodean land itself, there is still always a lot to be said for pure unadorned natural beauty.
Either way the CD is readily available outside New Zealand, but, should you want to learn more about the Atoll label or its current catalogue, the URL given on the CD has now been amended to: https://atoll.co.nz
Philip R Buttall
Romance No 1 (String Quartet) [5:47]
Happy Days (String Quartet) [4:00]
“Ina” original Scottish air (String Quartet) [2:00]
Suite for Flute & String Quartet [19:00]
Pastorale (String Quartet) [6.45]
Elena’s Waltz (String Quartet) [2:47]
Such sweet sorrow (String Quartet) [4:20]
Song without words (Oboe & String Quartet) [3.15]
Landscape No 1 (Oboe & String Quartet) [6:00]
Black Swan (Oboe & String Quartet) [4:00]
Landscape No 2 (Oboe & String Quartet) [4:40]
Happy Ending (Bassoon, Horn & String Quartet) [4:05]