The Fabulous Sir John - A tribute to Sir John Manduell
Benedict Holland, David Greed (violins), Jennifer Langridge (cello), John Turner (recorder), Kim Becker (viola), Linda Merrick (clarinet)
Rachel Speirs (soprano)
Victoria String Quartet
rec. 2021, Stockport, UK
DIVINE ART DDA25235 
Sir John Manduell (1928-2017), composer and academic, crucially the first Principal of Manchester’s Royal Northern College of Music, is still much loved and revered. So much so that this is the second tribute disc from The Divine Art. The composers featured are very much part of the Manchester scene.
Adam Gorb’s Aria for Sir John is a touchingly melodic little piece for recorder and string quartet.
Next comes a sequence of pieces by Manduell himself. After an edgily haunting and reserved Elegy for string quartet there’s a trippingly complex Recitative and Aria in similar language, The Trois Chansons are for soprano and piano. Here, Manduell responds with natural melodic pliancy to the texts. These are indeed early works of his and this explains the less relentless and even straightforward melodic style. Of the three, ‘D’un vanneur de blé aux vents’ was also set, at about the same age, as Manduell by Lennox Berkeley, in 1925, Young men’s songs then - sung here by Rachel Speirs. She has lyric instincts and operatic powers in reserve and the latter are certainly engaged by ‘À sa dame malade’.
The short Bell Birds from Nelson is for John Turner’s solo recorders (treble and descant) . It was written for the 70th birthday of a composer little recalled, Anthony Gilbert. Its trills and chirps bespeak a virtuoso piece evidently well prepared.
Nocturne and Scherzo is for clarinet and string trio and was completed as a dedication piece to Alun Hoddinott in 1967. It adheres to Manduell’s style as in the Elegy and Recitative and Aria. There’s fear afoot in the sinister Nocturne.
In like style there’s the passingly brief and cheeky Tom's Twinkle for recorder and piano. The title prepares you for the score’s brevity. It was written in memory of calligrapher, artist and frankly lyrical composer Tom Pitfield.
Michael Berkeley’s A Dark Waltz for recorder and string quartet is a thoughtful piece and escapes any suggestion of the waltz having intoxication; but then it was written in memory of Sir John. It is most adroitly short and with a touching poignancy.
William Alwyn’s Five Songs from 'Songs of Innocence' are polished little Blake settings for soprano and string quartet and comfortably join the delectable output of Geoffrey Bush and Adrian Cruft from many years later. These songs are from May 1931. David Matthews is to be thanked for making these songs a practical performing entity. Apparently, the score is hard to read. There is something of Britten in the strikingly humorous ‘bounce’ of ‘Laughing Song’. The five end with the thoughtful ‘Nurse’s Song’. All credit to Alwyn for concluding the sequence with a down beat and a shiver.
Richard Stoker’s Memento Mary Magdalene is a lament for Mary for recorder and string quartet. Stoker deserves credit for following such an unexpected subject. The music sinks like a stiletto under the skin and is most moving. Surely, it is time for more Stoker including his operas Therèse Raquin and Johnson Preserv’d, the symphonies, concert overtures and three each string quartets and violin sonatas. Here is a most fastidious composer who yet seeks out the listener’s heart. With Manduell he was a fellow Berkeley pupil.
The styles here range from severe to sweet but without the juiciest succulence. The notes in the CD booklet, which is neatly and legibly laid out, are all in English only and are extensive. Sung texts are there, but in the case of Sir John’s songs, are not translated into English. The booklet also includes a set of recollections of Sir John from Bryan Fox, Kent Nagano and Linda Merrick.
Adam Gorb (b.1958)
1. Aria for Sir John
John Manduell (1928-2017)
3. Recitative and Aria
Trois Chansons de la Renaissance
4. I. Mignonne, allons voir si la Rose.
5. II. D’un vanneur de blé aux vents
6. III. A sa dame malade
7. Bell Birds from Nelson
8. Nocturne and Scherzo
9. Tom's Twinkle
Michael Berkeley (b.1948)
10. A Dark Waltz
William Alwyn (1905-1985)
Five Songs from 'Songs of Innocence'
11. I. The Echoing Green
12. II. Spring
13. III. The Divine Image
14. IV. Laughing Song
15. V. Nurse's Song
Richard Stoker (1938-2021)
16. Memento Mary Magdalene, Op. 84