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Douglas YOUNG (b.1947)
The Hunting of the Snark (An Agony in 8 Fits)
Narrator-Peter Easton
Douglas Young-Piano and Percussion
The Leicestershire Chorale and Members of the Leicestershire Schools Symphony Orchestra/Peter Fletcher
rec. Bosworth College, Desford, 14 March 1982

Its quite extraordinary and also very sad that a composer can be ‘flavour of the month’ for a number of years either with the BBC or with general commissioning bodies and then be almost expunged from public consciousness for the rest of his/her career. This, it seems to me, has happened to Douglas Young. I can recall, as a student in the 70’s that Douglas Young’s music was often heard in London and on Radio 3, He was then of course a young aspiring and promising composer not yet thirty. After a while things went quiet and then his name became forgotten. His work as director of the group Dream Tiger also came to an end. He has, however, continued to compose and several of his more recent works are mentioned in the CD booklet.

Soon after its first performance this work, his best known I think, was recorded by Sony and is now happily re-released by Cameo Classics, which is owned by Lyrita. The piece had been commissioned by the Leicestershire School of Music in association with the East Midland Arts. Some of you may recall that in the 70’s and 80’s the county was in the very enviable position of having a highly regarded and high-profile youth orchestra under the direction of Eric Pinkett and later Peter Fletcher (d.1996) which, amongst other things, became associated with Sir Michael Tippett and recorded the first commercially available version of two symphonies by Havergal Brian.

I first came across this extraordinary poem when I was teenager; I didn’t understand it then and I don’t now, but its language and word play are so enthralling and incredibly funny and clever. Its most famous lines are, I think, “To seek it with thimbles to seek it with care/To pursue it with forks and hope;/ To threaten it its life with a railway share;/To charm it with smiles and soap”.

Young sets it for speaker, in this case the marvellous Peter Easton who has the ability to be totally clear no matter what is going on around him and also to gradate his voice interestingly. In addition Young uses a choir, the Leicestershire Chorale, in all kinds of ways: at one point, in the fourth fit, they sing a chorale-like passage. They also contribute by sometimes shouting and screaming and making various unusual noises, at other times opening and closing some fits, but their diction, where needed, is not especially clear and their words are not printed in the booklet. The orchestra (22 players in all) is used in a very colourful, but sometimes rather predictable way. In between lines, or pairs of lines and at the end of verses Young gives us an often descriptive sound, noise might be a better description, which he hopes will illuminate the sentence or add colour to it. For example a tiny quote from ‘Greensleeves’ at “That English is what you speak”. The sounds and quotes are often quite witty and unexpected, like the use of ‘Silent Night’ just moments before the end of the work, but this technique, repeated, can also become a little tedious as the sounds, being so different as you go through each verse can create a lose of continuity. However later in the piece, as the atmosphere becomes blacker and wilder, especially from the fifth fit onwards the music is more successfully continuous and at the end of the seventh fit Young writes for himself a wild cadenza as the mood becomes even darker and shockingly acerbic.

What is so marvellous is how well the young instrumental musicians at the time, played and clearly reacted to the music (their names are listed in the booklet) and my colleague at the time on MusicWeb, John Whitmore, is quoted as saying “the playing is good absolute rather than good considering”, I can’t improve on those words.

The booklet contains the original, Monty Python type, illustrations you find in any good copy of the poem, by Henry Holiday (d.1927) as well as the complete Carroll text and biographies of the performers but no composer’s note on the work.
Gary Higginson

Previous reviews (original release): Paul Corfield Godfrey ~ John Whitmore



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