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Adam POUNDS (b. 1954)
Clarinet Quintet (2014) [7:28]
Sonatina for flute and piano (2008) [6:46]
Lennox BERKELEY (1903-1989)
Three Pieces for flute and guitar (arr. Pounds from Five Short Pieces for piano, 1936) [3:41]
Sonatina for flute and piano (1939) [10:40]
String Quartet No.2 (2003) [14:58]
Time for voice and chamber ensemble (1991-2011) [15:58]
Dinah Pounds (flute)
Adam Pounds (guitar)
Anna Lightbown (piano)
Goldfield Ensemble
Bingham String Quartet
Michaelhouse Chamber Ensemble
Recording details not given except Quintet: 2014, Stapleford Granary Arts Centre, UK

This new CD featuring music by Adam Pounds and Lennox Berkeley gets off to an interesting start with the former’s lyrical Clarinet Quintet. This was composed in 2014, specifically for the Stapleford Granary Arts Centre in Cambridgeshire. It is an often-lively piece that explores many interesting rhythms and melodic ideas. This is an accessible piece, that sometimes seems to have hints of Vaughan Williams. The only problem is that at under eight minutes it is far too short. There is some great material here that could have been developed into a multi-movement work. As it is, the progress of the music is an arch form, opening with restraint but suddenly the rapid ‘second subject’ takes over for an extended ‘scherzo’. Quieter music brings this quintet to a thoughtful and enigmatic conclusion. It is sympathetically played by the Goldfield Ensemble. The excellent clarinet soloist is Kate Romano, I think. This is not mentioned on the liner notes.

I enjoyed Pounds’s Sonatina for flute and piano. It was written in 2008 for his wife Dinah Pounds, the present soloist. The three contrasting movements provide variety and interest in this short work. The slightly acerbic slow movement is particularly interesting. The bouncy finale is full of good things and brings the piece to an exciting conclusion. There is a touch of neo-classical about this music, which befits a pupil of Lennox Berkeley.

I have long liked Berkeley’s Five Pieces for piano written in 1936. Pounds has arranged them for flute and guitar, citing the elder composer’s interest in both these instruments. They do work in this transcription, nevertheless I much prefer them in their piano incarnation.

Berkeley’s Sonatina for flute and piano is a little masterpiece. It is a splendid example of Gallic charm balanced with nostalgia and sadness. It is a difficult work to perform, but both Dinah Pounds and Anna Lightbown give an excellent and satisfying account. I think the programme notes should refer to ‘Gallic style’, rather than ‘Gaelic’! (MacBerkeley perhaps)

I reviewed Adam Pounds’s String Quartet for MusicWeb International in August 2013. I am not sure if this CD uses the same recording or a new one. ‘Both’ are by the Bingham Quartet. (My copy of the original CD is in lockdown at the moment!). It is a powerful work, much of which is composed in an unashamedly ‘English’ mood. The early part of this single movement quartet nods towards modal pastoralism, but this conceit does not last long. In fact, the ethos of the work is to present a dialogue between ‘peace’ and ‘turmoil’ so there is plenty here that is vibrant and sometimes even downright aggressive. These two diverse moods are epitomised by contrapuntal and harmonic writing, respectively. Despite the ‘troubling’ moments in this work, there is a genuine sense of optimism, especially in the concluding bars. It is the most essential and important work on this disc and presents one of the best ‘modern’ British string quartets that I have heard.

The final work seems a bit of concoction. It was written (or gestated) over a long period (1991-2011). The liner notes explain that Time indulges in self-quotations from Pounds’s catalogue, including the Symphony No.1, the Violin Sonata and a vocal piece called ‘Blake’s Drum’. The piece has four movements or sections, beginning with an instrumental ‘Prologue’ written only for flute and piano. Time continues with settings of poems by Blake, Shakespeare, and Shelley. These are sung by an unnamed tenor accompanied by a chamber ensemble (flute, piano and percussion). The notion behind this work is the fleeting nature of time. There was an old Irish saying that stated ‘When God made time, he made plenty of it.’ I disagree, as I suspect Adam Pounds and his choice of poets do as well.

The ‘Prologue’ should have been prefaced by a spoken recitation of Shakespeare’s Sonnet no.7 ‘Lo! in the orient when the gracious light/Lifts up his burning head, each under eye’. For some reason (certainly not duration restraints) it is omitted here. This work is my least favourite on this CD. It seems remarkably grim and dark hued. On the other hand, there are lots of interesting ideas, especially in the accompaniment that could be worked into something more exciting. The soloist does sound as if he is in a cupboard! Nevertheless, the ensemble plays clear and bright.

The presentation of this CD presents several issues. Firstly, the ‘arty’ sleeve makes reading the programme notes quite difficult. They are printed in a tiny font. The track listing is equally difficult to read. I have noted the lack of recording dates for all the works except the Clarinet Quintet. And, who was the tenor and the clarinettist? The programme notes present just about enough information to enjoy, but not to fully understand, this repertoire. I have no issues with the performance or recording of these six works but see the note about the ‘cupboard’ above.

This is an excellent programme of chamber music. The highlights are the clarinet quintet, string quartet and Berkeley’s flute sonatina.

John France

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