Wednesday, 17 March 2010

David Morgan: Contrasts for Orchestra

Until recently I had never heard David Morgan’s Contrasts properly. Let me explain. I did have the original vinyl LP in my collection – but I bought it second hand. I guess someone must have had it on the beach, because the sound quality is dreadful. Try as I did, I could not clean the sand from the groove. I cannot imagine why someone would want to use this album as a Frisbee on Morecambe Beach – but that seems to have been the case. A bad buy! So I was delighted to hear Contrasts on CD. And what a wonderful work I have missed.
I know virtually nothing about the composer: I do know that he studied with the late Dr Alan Bush and Leighton Lucas. Morgan was born in 1933 and has written a Sinfonia da Requiem, the above mentioned Violin Concerto and a number of chamber and instrumental music. He does not feature in New Grove. Therefore, I depend on Paul Conway’s programme notes for my understanding of this work.
David Morgan composed Contrasts in the autumn of 1974. He dedicated it to the memory of Shostakovich. The composer has described the composition as "a deliberate contrast in duality: it consists of two disparate movements, each based on the same two themes, constantly varied throughout the piece." The first movement is over sixteen minutes long whereas the second is only five. Yet there is no apparent formal or aural imbalance.
It could be concluded that this work is in fact a two movement symphony – there are plenty of precedents for that particular form. Or perhaps, as Conway suggests, it is a ‘Concerto for Orchestra’. Whatever the formal underpinning of this work, it is undoubtedly a fantastic piece. The emotional range is tremendous, without being confusing or overbearing. The musical style is always approachable without being simplistic or passé. It is possible to hear bitterness, reflection and joie de vivre in these pages: it is moving and exciting and enjoyable at the same time. The balance is perfect: the orchestration is masterly. I cannot imagine why a work of this calibre and quality is unknown. I would actually give reams of Shostakovich to possess David Morgan’s tribute to the elder composer.

This work can be found on Lyrita’s Premieres and Encores. Two very short extracts can be heard on the Emusic site


SH said...

Thank you for your enthusiasm for the work of the late David Morgan. I was fortunate to know the composer from 1977, the year of release of the Lyrita LP featuring this work and the remarkable Violin Concerto, until he moved to Canada in the mid-eighties, where he eventually died. All the reviews of his music refer to Shostakovitch and Walton, but the composer who David regarded as most influential on him, from a formal and stylistic point of view, was Lutoslawski. The first movement of Contrasts shows this particularly. Regarding 'the formal underpinnings' of this work I may be able to shed some light: it was written to a commission from Johnson Wax and was originally conceived as a one movement arch structure. On run-through, it came up short timewise - and the sponsor was disgruntled as they were expecting a work of at least 20 minutes duration. Rather than try and 'pad out' the structure David simply stuck a crowd-pleasing Toccata on the end. And that was how it came to be.

EricS said...

Some brief biography about him has been posted (not by me) here. Cheers!
-ES, not the same as the former commenter