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Jeremy BECK (b.1960)
By Moonlight
rec. 2011-18, various locations
Texts included
INNOVA 051 [70:39]

Jeremy Beck’s music features heavily on Innova and quite a number of his discs have been reviewed here (Wave, String Quartets, Never Final, Never Gone, Pause and Feel and Hark, In Flight). The latest is another conspectus that ranges freely over instrumental music, chamber pieces, orchestral, choral and song. It showcases the breadth of his interests as well as revealing his poetic enthusiasms in the vocal settings. It also shows his positive and tonal approach to composition, one that is happily devoid of arid technical or doctrinaire investigations.

The music was written over many years and you can hear alternative settings of pieces elsewhere. The Third Delphic Hymn, for example, is heard here in its version for solo viola whilst you can hear the solo violin version on the album called IonSound Project. The Concertino is cast for two cellos and string orchestra and opens with a fresh, folkloric ethos – something reminiscent of Copland, perhaps – as well as a rich application of warm vibrancy. The two cello soloists entwine well throughout, and the pastoral interlude that opens the work’s second section prefaces a happy dance. Beck’s works are frequently small-scaled and this gives ample opportunities for tonal definition and an immediate sense of characterisation, as here. The two poems that make up Dreams and Echoes for SATB a cappella (the first by Sao Nan, the second by Beck) reveal his accomplished verse settings, along with some well distributed dissonances. These sensitive pieces, written in 1998, would not have alarmed Howells in terms of their essential communicativeness.

The canvas spreads wider still in the Two Pieces for Guitar, deft and succinct. That named for Birnam Wood is, perhaps appropriately, the more tinged with folk influence. There’s a fine Prelude and Toccata of 2011, the Toccata being especially restless and mobile. The Three Songs for tenor and piano (Blake, Leigh Hunt, Shelley) are perhaps less distinctive, though the wry Hunt setting, Jenny Kiss’d Me, brings out Beck’s humour. Written for the interesting combination of violin and two violas, the Adagio and Allegro (1981 rev 2001) is irradiated by the warmest of lyric textures and by a corresponding terpsichorean vitality, allowing for a brief moment of contrast in the ‘B’ section in the Allegro. Of summers past, or passing, for clarinet and piano, fuses lilting charm with dreamlike reverie and opportunities for brief soliloquy for the clarinet. Moments of reflective intimacy, and livelier more athletic writing include jazzy phrases, a warm narrative and a jubilant end. The final work is Three Pieces for Orchestra (2016). This begins like an oboe-flecked pastoral though the orchestral tapestry becomes more active and, in the final panel, the music’s motor gradually slows, and the work ends in a rather beautiful calm.

The performances are admirably sensitive and the various recordings, taken from different locations and time periods, are perfectly fine. Beck has written notes about his pieces, than which one can hardly ask for more, and there are biographies of the individual performers. With this latest disc Jeremy Beck shows, once again, that one can fashion convincing music from traditional ways and means that sounds alive and relevant.

Jonathan Woolf
Concertino (2006) [10:15]
Dimitar Tenchey, Boris Radilov (cellos)/Sofia Session Orchestra/Grigor Palikarov
Dream and Echoes (1998) [6:31]
The First Readings Project/David Ostenso Moore
Two Pieces for Guitar (1982 rev 2007) [5:07]
Todd Seelye (guitar)
Prelude and Toccata (2011) [7:13]
Paul York (cello)
Three Songs (1986) [3:59]
Jeffrey Brich (tenor): Korey Barrett (piano)
Adagio and Allegro (1981 rev 2001) [8:23]
Derek Ratzenboeck (violin): Rebecca Barnes and Jennifer Shackleton (violas)
Of Summers Past, or Passing (2014) [14:25]
Kathleen Costello (clarinet): Robert Frankenberry (piano)
Third Delphic Hymn (1980) [2:46]
Deborah Lander (viola)
Pieces for Orchestra (2016) [11:49]
Brno Philharmonic Orchestra/Mikel Toms

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