Sunday, 23 January 2011

Gordon Crosse: Three Kipling Songs

I have never really got to grips with the music of Gordon Crosse (b.1937). For one thing there is comparatively little of his music available on CD, although recent releases from Lyrita and Dutton Epoch have to a certain extent begun to address this oversight. Furthermore, the first piece I heard by Crosse was the choral work Changes on the old Argo LP ZRG-656. It was a piece that did not impress me at that time: I have not heard it since. I guess that I have metaphorically put this particular composer on the back burner.
However, in my defence, I did listen to Changes when I was about 15 years old! At that time I barely knew my 'Arnold from my Elgar' and certainly had not dabbled in much that had 'adventurous and chromatic textures.' I certainly did not know Britten's Spring Symphony or William Mathias' This Worldes Joie. Both of these works may be seen as analogous to Crosse's Changes.

However, I recently heard his Three Kipling Songs for soprano, recorder, oboe, violin and cello on an excellent new release on the Prima Facie label. This has made me review my opinion of the composer. The three songs are ‘L’envoi’, ‘Gertrude’s Prayer’ and ‘Four-feet’. They were collected in this form as a dedication to Sir John Manduell on his eightieth birthday. Gertrude’s Prayer appears to have been composed for voice and piano in 1988 however it was rewritten for the present ensemble in 2006. The texts represent Kipling at his best.
The musical style of this work seems to be a long way from his ‘cutting-edge avant-garde reputation' along with such names as Nicolas Maw and Peter Maxwell Davies: the present work is listenable, enjoyable and often moving. However, Gordon Crosse has told me that he was often 'sniped at' from both sides of the musical aesthetic divide - the 'avant garde' and the 'traditionalist'. This diversity of critical opinion suggests that his music will repay study: certainly those few pieces I have heard would suggest that he is his own man and does not occupy any particular camp. My next project is to listen to Changes once again-after a forty year hiatus: I will comment on this adventure on my blog in due course!

Finally, it is interesting that Rudyard Kipling has had a bad press over the years, often from people who have not read him. It is assumed that he was an old fashioned jingoist, rather than a creditable artist. To be fair, he did hold attitudes that do not chime with contemporary sensibilities, but when taken in the round he is a writer of great depth and breadth. It is good that Gordon Crosse chose to set these moving poems.

Gordon Crosse’s Three Kipling Songs is available on Prima Facie PFCD004

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