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ANTHONY HEDGES Four Breton Sketches; Cantilena: Heigham Sound Overture; Four Miniature Dances: Humber Scenes: Kingston Sketches.    RTE Sinfonietta/Hedges. Marco Polo 8.223886



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This new release, recorded in Dublin in November 1995, is a welcome addition to Marco Polo’s ‘British Light Music’ series. It does not take very long for Hedges’ fine melodies to lodge themselves in the listener’s memory and there will be few who can resist returning to this disc after one hearing.

The Four Breton Sketches (1980) which open the programme were in-spired by the composer’s memories of a holiday in Brittany: the third movement is the most striking with its graphic depiction of motor horns sounding, interrupting the genial mood of a promenade walk. The piece itself is an intricately woven Rondo in miniature but characteristically with Hedges, subtle formal workings are masked by the instantly appeal-ing musical ideas.

The Cantilena (1983) is a wistful and haunting Andante tranquillo, a re-orchestration of the slow movement of a Suite for eight pianists and four pianos called Pieces of Eight (1982). Its principal theme has a luminous beauty and stays in the mind long after the disc has finished.

The high spirits of the superb Overture: Heigham Sound place it in the same company as Alwyn’s Derby Day, Walton’s Scapino. Mathias’s Dance and Rawsthorne’s Street Corner. Perhaps the most ‘English’-sounding of the works on this disc, it was originally a shorter orchestral piece called Holiday Overture: it is the perfect introduction to Anthony Hedges’ art and really should have been the opening work on this CD. The Four Miniature Dances (1967) are musical snapshot characterisa-tions of the composer’s children and exhibit much charm as well as demonstrating great restraint and resource in their orchestration.

Scenes from the Humber (1981) was written to celebrate the opening of the Humber Bridge and its four movements describe areas and features associated with the Humber. The final movement, Humber Keel Horn-pipe, is delightfully Waltonesque (this is the only time listening to the disc, however, that I was forcefully reminded of another composer’s style, so distinctive is Hedges’ writing).

Finally, Kingston Sketches (1969) pro-vide three portraits of Hull or more accurately three miniatures based on some of the exotic-sounding street names to be encountered in that City. The Whitefriargate Waltz is instantly memorable and the jaunty Feren-sway March provides a suitably upbeat end to this most enjoyable selection.Nonetheless, there are some cautionary notes to be sounded: the last two pieces on the disc have been recorded before by the composer on a Meridian Records LP with his own Humberside Sinfonia and in both cases I much prefer the vigour and vitality of these 1981 performances to the rather safe and sometimes cautious-sounding interpretations on the Marco Polo release - it is no coincidence that all seven tracks have gained in length on the new disc and the added weight causes the 1995 versions to linger and lumber occasionally where the 1981 recordings flare and fizz. Also, the dynamic range of the new disc seems more restricted than that of the 1981 LP.

However, despite these reservations, the disc is still a marvellous opportunity to hear British Light Music of the highest quality. I do hope Marco Polo (or some other enlightened company) will consider more serious orchestral music by Anthony Hedges: in particular, the two Symphonies, the Variations on a theme of Rameau, Festival Dances and Sinfonia Concertante all desperately need committing to disc.


Paul Conway

See also biography of Hedges


Paul Conway

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