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John SCOTT A Colchester Symphony   The Colchester Institute Symphony Orchestra conducted by Christopher Phelps COLCHESTER INSTITUTE CBC CD 001 [66:30] Enquiries to The Colchester Institute School of Music, Colchester, UK

Bristol born John Scott has built an enviable reputation for himself as a composer of dramatic and evocative scores for documentaries (as well as feature films), such as the Cousteau adventures, so it is appropriate that he was commissioned to write this celebration of Britain's oldest recorded town.

The Colchester Symphony, at 66:30 minutes duration is huge and sprawling; and, it has to be said, of uneven inspiration. Bold, exciting material is let down by more ponderous elements. Try as I may, in the absence of really memorable themes, I sometimes found my attention wandering particularly in 16 minute first movement - or first tableau as the CD booklet calls it - the work is divided into five tableaux each with its own title and programme.

Tableau one entitled "Before Camulodunum" suggests the area of Colchester at the dawn of history: softly focussed and distant heraldic fanfares evoking "primordial elements drifting in the ether" and then more substantial symphonic material developing as the land forms. A sonorous celli theme is announced which is to become the motif for Colchester and from which the whole work will develop and proceed. For the first ten minutes or so we have music that represents the early dawn of civilisation and it strongly reminded me of the first movement, "Danses of des Temps primitifs" from Tournemire's Symphony No 7 , "Les Danses de la Vie" dealing with very similar subject matter. The music proceeds slowly and ponderously and might have benefited from some judicious editing; but at about 10:00 the rhythms grow increasingly urgent; there are softly touched cymbal strokes as if one hears the breath of some stirring beast, saxophone wailings, percussion beats, winding woodwinds, slithering strings, and then slight syncopations and faintly exotically Arabic inflections - all adding interest and colour as the mysticism of the Druids is invoked.

Tableau two is called, "The Romans" and it is much more arresting. It is a powerful alla marcia statement - a Respighi-like sound-portrait of advancing, mighty Roman legions. Proud and confident brass fanfares call out across the sound stage and their colour is enhanced by very authentic-sounding musical phrases evoking Latin and exotic cultures. Quieter passages suggest Celtic resignation and the verdant landscapes around the town, before an impressive fugal section evokes the building of the Roman temple.

Tableau three represents the uprising and temporary victory of Boudica against Roman tyranny.

The music harks back to some of the material in the opening movement to portray the less sophisticated rebel army drawn together by the fiery female warrior. As her forces gather the music swirls around like some swelling cloud of angry bees until at the hight of their rage they are released upon their prey. After the climax of the conflict, the music decrescendos to mourn Boudica's many casualties.

The fourth tableaux takes us forward to the Civil War with Colchester in a state of siege with Roundheads encircling the town and forcing depravation on the Royalists within its walls. Desolate tonalities comment on the hardship of the citizens. Martial music underscores armed conflict and then there is poignancy for the deaths of the Royalists who are handed over to the Roundheads as the price of the safety of the majority.

The final movement, "Celebration", is a portrait of modern Colchester. The music has all the sweep and pomp that goes with great civic pride. It is joyful and breezy, and both the everyday hurry and bustle of the town, and the contrasting serenity of its leafy green spaces and quieter paths are evoked. An attractive, Romantic, broad-flowing melody is introduced which builds up to an imposing and sustained climax which is rather let down by an anti-climactic and rather perfunctory ending after earlier material is briefly recapitulated.

An interesting if flawed work enthusiastically performed by the Colchester players.


Ian Lace


Ian Lace

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