Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Montague Phillips: Sinfonietta in C Op.70

Montague Phillips’s Sinfonietta was composed in 1943 in the middle of the Second World War. Lewis Foreman points out that this work is ‘innocent and lacking angst’. With this statement I partly agree. True there are no tensions comparable to say, Vaughan Williams’ Fourth Symphony. However, what I feel the composer is doing is reflecting back to quieter times (whenever they occurred) and is perhaps looking forward to peace in the future. Maybe this is reading too much into what is basically a warm-hearted and lyrical work. However there is a certain wistfulness and longing here which is perhaps not evident in some of the other works essayed in the CD.
It is in this work that Montague Phillips comes closest to the mainstream British music of the period. Of course he is no Britten or Berkeley, but this work is far removed from the Shakespearean Scherzo written nearly a decade previously. There is less here of the music of Eric Coates and Haydn Wood and perhaps more of the Forties film score type of tune. Some of this music exhibits a depth rarely associated with ‘light’ music.

The first movement gets off to a good ‘fanfaring’ start. The tempo is Allegro risoluto. However there are many tender and reflective moments here. There is a lovely lyrical moment pointed up with a solo oboe. There are even some passages in the ‘development’ section that look forward to the music of Malcolm Arnold.
The slow movement is quite exquisite. The opening passage is scored for oboe solo accompanied by the harp. This music develops very slowly with an almost Elgarian longing. The oboe returns again to comment on the more romantic string tone. The only problem is that this movement is too short. It seems like no time at until the violin is reprising the theme quietly to itself. Soon the movement dies away into a dreamy silence.
The last movement is a romp. It is entitled a Scherzo – and this is entirely appropriate. We hear the orchestra playing some interesting rhythms of a kind not heard in this disc so far. The contrast between sections of this piece is effective. The sleeve-notes describe the second theme as ‘perky’ and this is correct. After a brief climax the music takes a march-like character. There is nothing of the Crown Imperials here though; it is a quietly sustained effort that leads us back to the opening music. Once again we aware of some very interesting orchestral effects – for muted brass and percussion. The work ends with a nice brassy peroration.
The Sinfonietta can be heard on Dutton CDLX 7140

No comments: