lt is seldom that one could use the adjective 'enjoyable' about a recording
of what, all too often, can be the driest of formal music-making. Yet in
this brightly recorded and sympathetic performance by Ian Hobson, David Johnson,
whose serious intent is undoubted, provides the listener with many recurring
moments of pleasurable listening. His serious intent - the development of
a motto phrase of four notes into a harmonic structure of convincing simplicity
- is delightfully disarmed by his assertion, in an idiosyncratic sleeve note,
that "fugues are made out of tunes" - and he proceeds almost ingenuously
to do just that
The motto phrase - Bflat, B, E, A:
representing the Gaelic word ' Beatha' ("Life, welcome, livelihood, food......
a positive concept about day to day survival" as he explains) is transposed
down a succession of thirds, constructing thereby an architectonic scheme
which is simple, understandable and effective - ie 1 in Bflat, 2 in B, 3
in E and so on.
Written in 1995 this set, while acknowledging the masters of fugue of the
past, is like all of Johnson's music, an intensely personal document. He
doesn't hide this, and in a few terse comments on each number, and wearing
his heart on his sleeve, he illuminates the music, disclosing an unusual
variety of associations. One gets the impression however that the musical
structure came first and that his comments followed as he tries to put into
words ideas that result, rather than concepts that inspired? What one is
supremely conscious of is that the origins of his inspiration and its musical
dialect stem from Scots music - not surprisingly for the author of an excellently
reasoned book on the 18th century musical scene in Scotland (Oxford 1972).
If there is any other influence in these, almost aphoristic pieces, I imagine
it might come from Eric Chisholm whose equally aphoristic 'Cameos' and Scottish
pieces have the same rather quirky flashes of delightful humour.
Johnson's descriptive notes, equally quirky, mention moods of 'mystery -
anger, midsummer magic: - Death by drowning on a Caribbean beach - English
seasides, passing trains and a naval expedition - and the music, with its
underlying Scottish element makes use of 'The animals went in two by two',
a 'Bobby Shafto' sound-alike, a transposition of his setting of MacDiarmid
, a German chorale, a Hebridean lullaby, a 17th century Psalm tune and 'Hey,
This eclecticism is however more apparent than real - for the music is coherent,
tuneful and unabashedly tonal - a recording to be enjoyed by even the most
technically uninformed listener.