Noson yn yr opera (A Night at the Opera) (1997); Welsh Incident (1989); Dinas Barhaus (Enduring City) (2010); Microconcerto for double bass and orchestra (2004); Cariad (2008); Conseirto i’r Utgorn (Trumpet Concerto) (2008); Gwylmabsant (1994); Llam Carw (Stag’s Leap) (2010); Cyfres Fechan i Linynnau (Little Suite for Strings)(2011)
Jonathan Pryce (narrator), Philippe Schartz (trumpet), Dominic Seldis (double bass) and Jane Watts (organ) BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Grant Llewellyn and the Royal Ballet Sinfonia/Gavin Sutherland & Julian Bigg
SAIN SCD2653 2 CDs
This is a fantastic CD: from the first to the last track there is interest, variety, and sheer enjoyment. All the works on this disc are approachable and satisfying, yet they bear repeated hearing. It would be easy to categorise Gareth Glyn’s musical style as being ‘light’ – a number of his pieces have been released on CDs dedicated to that particular genre. However there is a much greater depth and variety to his music that defies any easy attempt at stereotyping.
The first track on this two-CD album is close to my heart. I have to confess that of all the musical forms, opera, is the one that I least relate to. I have tried, but largely failed to get into Wagner, Verdi and Richard Strauss. [I do dote on G&S tho’!]
A Night at the Opera was commissioned in 1997 for the Beaumaris Festival. The composer has written that ‘a three act opera can take as many hours to stage...’ And even longer if it is part of The Ring! What this present piece does is condense the whole operatic experience into ‘one-twentieth’ of the time. The work begins with a mini-overture and is followed by a series of solos, duets, ensembles, recitatives and choruses – minus the vocal parts! Glyn has introduced all the passion, anger, love and humour into a short piece that is well constructed and delightfully scored. It is my kind of ‘Night at the Opera...’
The title track of the CD, Welsh Incident is a marvellous piece. When one takes the poetry of Robert Graves, the music of Gareth Glyn, and the voice of the Welsh actor Jonathan Pryce one is guaranteed a successful work of art. In addition there is a virtuosic part for double-bass which is beautifully played by Dominic Seldis. The action of this ‘narration’ takes place in the sea-side town of Criccieth: it concerns the arrival of ‘aliens’ on a local beach. Do not try to read too much into the text: just enjoy the lovely language and the striking imagery that owes not a little to Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood. It is one of my discoveries of 2011!
The following piece is a much more serious work that owes something to the musical style of Aaron Copland. Enduring City was written to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the founding of New Bern, which was the first permanent seat of the colonial government of the US state of North Carolina. It is an historical portrayal of the city with an optimistic nod to the future. The work has number of sections which refer to people and events in the city’s history. Enduring City opens with a reflection of John Lawson and then Christoph von Graffenried who were the founding fathers. The next movement considers the history of ‘Tryon Palace’, which was the governor’s residence. In this music a variety of historical styles are rehearsed including ‘fife and drum’ bands, minuets and African slave music. The conclusion of this section combines all these elements into a riotous coda. The following movement considers the various conflicts that have beset the city, including a major battle during the Civil War, which is then followed by a long and beautiful meditation on ‘reconciliation and beauty’. Enduring City concludes with a positive look to the future. This is not light music: it is an involved and vital work which is written in an approachable language. It is probably the most important work presented in this retrospective CD.
The Microconcerto for double bass and orchestra is a little masterpiece. It was commissioned by BBC Radio 3 as part of its ‘Endangered Species’ series which was an attempt to encourage young people to take up instruments that were less popular. Gareth Glyn writes that it is the intention of this short work (lasting just 4½ minutes) to explore ‘the full range of the double bass – pitch, technique, style, and so on...’ It is an interesting and often striking exploration. The main ‘slow movement’ theme is gorgeous – I never knew the double-bass could be so expressive and play so ‘high’. It is a work that nods to Charlie Mingus without being in any way a jazz concerto. It should be a Prom favourite!
I really enjoyed Cariad, which is an arrangement or reworking of a number of Welsh folksongs with the theme of love (cariad). This is light-music at its very best with lots of lovely tunes, harmonies and effective orchestration. Look out for a few nods to the brass band tradition. Ardderchog!
The second CD begins with an impressive Trumpet Concerto. This is a good substantial work that is composed in a modern but not ‘difficult’ style. Each of the three movements has a title, which is in Welsh. The first is ‘Hyder’ meaning confidence – which is expressed in music that at times is ‘impetuous, quiet or assured’. It is exciting music that is well-balanced and evokes a variety of moods and emotions. The middle movement is entitled ‘Hiraeth’ which the composer suggests is untranslatable, but means something akin to ‘nostalgia’ or ‘longing’. Certainly Glyn has written heartfelt, almost valedictory music that uses the lyrical tones of the trumpet to such good effect. The finale is based on ‘Hwyl’ which in this usage means ‘farewell’. It is a romp from start to finish, with a gorgeous big tune emerging at the halfway mark. The work closes with rhythmical excitement which the composer suggests is somewhere between laughter and tears. This is a great concerto that demands to be in the repertoire of all good trumpet players. There are so few good examples of the genre: Gareth Glyn’s is one of the best.
It is always good to hear the organ in its secular guise. The concerted piece Gwlymabsant was commissioned by the BBC and was first performed on March 1 1994 with the present soloist, Jane Watts. Gareth Glyn points put that the title literally means ‘the festival of a patron saint’ which was for many years a tradition on Ynys Mon (Anglesey). It was originally a joyous religious festival which changed character over the years into an opportunity for dancing, drinking and feasting. This dichotomy is represented in the music, although the emphasis appears to be on the festivities rather than a deep meditation on the life of ‘any’ saint! The work is full of Mathias-ian rhythmic vitality and angular melodies. A real show stopper!
Llam Carw (Stag’s Leap) is based on a Welsh legend about St. Eilian. He was sent to Ynys Mon as a Papal emissary in the 5th century. One of his early acts was the ‘righteous’ blinding of a certain Cadwallon Lawhir (Cadwallan Long-hand) as a rather severe punishment for cattle rustling. However, the king begged for his sight to be restored. St Eilian agreed on the condition that he (or was it the Papacy) were granted the land that his stag could cover before being brought down by Cadwallan’s hounds. However, the stag leapt across a mighty gorge and escaped the dogs and ran far and wide. Much more land was gained than anyone imagined. The location of the jump is called ‘Llam Carw’ and is located near the town of Amlwch in Anglesey. The subject makes an ideal opportunity for an exciting and musically satisfying little tone poem. The work is in two sections with a ‘leap’ lasting a few seconds in the middle of the piece. The first section is the chase and a highly coloured ‘scherzo’ with some clever orchestration. The leap is cleverly contrived – brass over tremolo strings and then the stag is free (rhyddid) and with tonally unambiguous music escapes the threat of death.
Llam Carw is an excellent example of programme music which does not rely too heavily on the listener following a detailed narrative – chase/leap of faith/freedom is a fairly universal emotion that can be understood without the appurtenances of medieval hagiography. However, the story is a good one and deserves to be remembered.
The final work on this retrospective CD is the absolutely charming Little Suite for Strings. To my ear this is a work that is right up there with all the best ‘string orchestra’ pieces in the British music repertoire. The work is divided into five movements – Strings on the Wing, Waltz, Moto perpetuo, Prayer and Hoedown. Perhaps the opening movement is the most impressive and the waltz is a little gem. The concluding Hoedown is as good as the slightly better known example from Rodeo by Aaron Copland!
Only two minor complaints about this CD – firstly it is a wee bit short – with just over 100 minutes of music on two discs. And secondly, the liner notes are difficult to read: maroon-ish text on grey, shiny paper!
This is a great double CD that will give much pleasure and entertainment to listeners. However, there is also a great deal of music here that is deeper and requires our attention and concentration. Gareth Glyn is one of the best composer’s around and I guess that he deserves a greater popularity. This CD is an important step in that direction. I await (eagerly) a release of his fine symphony.
This CD can be ordered from Sain Records