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BUXTON ORR Piano Trios 1-3.
York Piano Trio: Jeremy Williams (Vn), Christine Jackson, (Vc), John York, (Pf).
Marco Polo 8.223842

There are those composers who admit to having been inspired by paintings or poems or films, there are those who are inspired by the performers. Buxton Orr does not fit particularly into either of these categories. Having got to know his music now for a period of over a decade, I have concluded that what inspires him are notes, sound, form. And knowing that he is writing "abstract" music, even twelve-tone music, like his teacher Benjamin Frankel, he has learned to make his music highly satisfying for the performers, exciting yet subtle, emotional and yet detached enough for the listener to become easily involved and carried along engaging in the argument.

It is such an inspired idea of Marco Polo's to record these 3 works. This is the first CD devoted to Orr's music (although some of his film scores can be found on Horror Silva Screen FILM75) and is highly recommendable. Orr, like Frankel, uses serial technique in a flexible and totally convincing manner. In the 2nd Piano Trio for instance: "all three instruments announce the melodic pattern, on which the whole work is based, struggling to its apex as the piano falls to the chords that accompany the melody on strings as it makes its retrograde descent. The ensuing movement explores the shapes implicit in this melody". The italics are mine, and obviously emphasise Orr's insistence that his row is a melody. (The beginning of the 3rd Trio is another example, when both violin and cello play a melody, two octaves apart and then continue to develop it.) Analysis of the 2nd Trio's first movement to discover inversion transpositions is not only futile but against the spirit of the music. However conventional tonality is only occasionally hinted at i.e., 2nd Piano Trio end of Movement 3. These works were all written between 1982 and 1990 for 3 different sets of performers, and should not be seen as Orr developing his grasp of the medium or evolving his language. Each work is fully and distinctively of itself. The format of each of quite different with variety within each Trio.

No. 1 has three movements, Moderato, Allegretto, Adagio - a most moving ending of deep feeling. No. 2 is in four movements - Allegro, Adagio, Allegro (Scherzo), Moderato. No. 3 is marginally the longest of the three:- Moderato: Energico: Tempo rubato (linked into) Con brio.

It is important to emphasise the contrasting tempi, and Orr has never had any trouble writing fast music. He has a natural sense of logical, onward thrusting counterpoint. Some composers have said that they find convincing fast music difficult - the obvious problems of many move bars per minute. Colin Matthews in his Sun's Dance made a manufactured effort to write a continuous Presto, producing a swirl of largely unformed activity. In Peter Maxwell Davies it is often difficult to detect the difference between a Moderato movement and an Allegro movement. Robert Simpson's Allegros can often seem to be running on the spot - Buxton Orr has no such problems.

Orr's tempi mark off clarity, difference and variety, each movement is clear in its aims and direction. Sometimes his slow movements (not in these works) seem to lack the necessary stillness due to his striving and sometimes nervous counterpoint, but that feeling never arises strongly here. Each movement is by turns, strong, playful, wilful, coy and disturbing, but above all, emotional and full of life.

Buxton Orr is a consummate professional. A composer of film music, songs, large orchestral scores, chamber works, and aleatoric compositions for the London Jazz Composers' Orchestra, come all alike to him. His 1971 setting of Lear's The Ballad of Mr and Mrs Discobbolos, is witty and highly chromatic, with an extraordinary lively and distinctive accompaniment. His writing for the piano is always challenging, never solely accompanimental, yet never dominating. The string writing in the Trios is totally idiomatic and in character with the material (i.e. 3rd Trio-Movement 2).

I first got to know these works (1982-1990) through good BBC broadcasts performed by various groups coming to the works fairly fresh. The York Trio ,for whom the 3rd Trio was written, are right inside the music. John York is a friend and ex-colleague of the composer when they were at the Guildhall School of Music. The performances are stunningly good and totally in the spirit. Excellently balanced and clear recordings made at St. Martin's, East Woodhay.

Scores: Gamber Press.
© Gary Higginson.

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