Wednesday, 6 January 2010

William Blezard: The River

The River (1969) is perhaps Blezard’s best known work – if it is possible to say that any of his pieces have really captured the musical public’s imagination. When I first heard this work I had not read the programme notes. I immediately felt that this was a perfect musical portrait of an English River. Of course I was wrong. It was actually composed after Blezard had returned from a tour of Australia in 1969. A certain programme has gathered round this work, which I feel is unnecessary. Apparently it is said to depict two lovers meeting by the riverside and going for a gentle stroll. Obviously the passion builds up a bit and the music swells, only to subside into a pleasant cup of tea and a scone at a riverside tearoom. I am afraid all this leaves me very cold. I accept that it is a romantic piece: I agree that the composer may have had a river in mind – be it in England or Australia. I will even concede he may have been in love. But the bottom line is that a programme like this spoils what is a very beautiful and quite moving piece.
This work is in the classic ‘Delian’ arch shape – beginning quietly, rising to a climax and then subsiding. I was reminded of Constant Lambert’s famous injunction about the only thing you can do with a folk tune is to play it again - louder. Blezard by and large uses just one tune – however it is not really a folksong. The subtlety with which he manipulates this basic material is perfectly satisfying. The orchestration of this work is excellent with exquisite moments for the harp and French horn. Most of the melody is carried on strings which gives this work its romantic feel.
All in all, I was reminded of Smetana’s Moldau as I was listening to this work: not in detail but just in the effectiveness of portraying running water in purely musical terms.
With thanks to MusicWeb International

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