Monday, 28 December 2009

Peter Dickinson: New Naxos Release

Peter DICKINSON (b. 1934) Lullaby from The Unicorns (1967/82/86) Mass of the Apocalypse (1984) Larkin’s Jazz (1989) Five Forgeries for piano duet (1963) Five Early Pieces for Piano (1955-1956) Air (1959) Metamorphosis (1955/57)

Peter Dickinson (piano), John Flinders (piano: Forgeries, Early Pieces 2 & 4), Duke Dobing (flute: Lullaby, Air & Metamorphosis); Rev. Donald Reeve (narrator), Jo Maggs (soprano), Meriel Dickinson (mezzo), St James Singers, James Holland & David Johnson (percussion) John Alley (piano) Ivor Bolton (conductor) [Mass]; Henry Herford (baritone/speaker) The Nash Ensemble/Lionel Friend [Larkin’s Jazz]

NAXOS 8.572287 [79:02]

I recently reviewed this excellent CD of music by the British composer, musicologist and academic Peter Dickinson. I felt that the best way to tackle this disc was to “join the composer on a musical journey. This will be not so much a chronological trip but one that introduces the listener to a variety of facets of the composer’s unique musical style. I guess that most listeners will be like me: they will know few if any of these works, unless they had been present at the concert performances.
After looking at some of the more directly approachable works on this CD I considered the most challenging piece, the Mass of the Apocalypse, which was commissioned for the 300th anniversary of the radical Anglican St James’s Church, Piccadilly. It received its premiere there on 15 July 1984. It is certainly not a work that could be used in any liturgical context and can only be performed as a ‘concert piece’. Structurally, it is a mish-mash of words collated from the Mass and from the Book of Revelation. This confusion is further increased by the use of the memorable prose of the Authorised King James Version for those parts of the work which are spoken against a background of music, with the sung parts conned from the less than satisfactory and somewhat pedestrian language of the now largely redundant ASB (Alternative Service book). The Mass is set for soprano and mezzo-soprano soloists, speaker and four-part chorus. Two percussionists and a pianist provide the accompaniment. I enjoyed this music in spite of its non-traditional format and the perplexity of styles. It is certainly a moving piece that will provoke a response from the listener of one kind or another.

A major part of this CD is given over to a live performance of Larkin’s Jazz. This is a rather unusual work written for a speaker and baritone (same person), small chamber ensemble including piano and percussion. It was commissioned by Keele University and was first performed in the chapel there on 5 February 1990. There is much of interest and the music is always engaging. The balance of the musical and the spoken parts is well contrived.

I concluded by noting that this CD has been issued to celebrate the composer’s 75th year. It’s an excellent CD with which to introduce the listener to the diverse sound-world of Peter Dickinson, a world that is always challenging and interesting but never lacks interest. It is a well-presented disc with an essential and informative essay by the composer. With nearly 80 minutes of music it represents good value for money. The ‘live’ first performances of the Mass and Larkin’s Jazz add interest and colour.
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Please read the full review on MusicWeb International

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