Wednesday, 28 December 2011

My Five Discoveries - or Rediscoveries of 2011 (Part 1)

2011 has been a good year for British Music. However, as always some pieces stick in the memory more than the rest. I have picked out five pieces that particularly impressed me over the past year. Four of them were works that I had never heard before. One of them being a piece that I have not got round to listening to for many years. I have extracted the comments from my past reviews of these works and  have linked to the CD listings on Arkiv or the CD company. 
I present them in two posts and in  reverse order with my number one 'hit' being last! 

Gareth Glynn: The Welsh Incident
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! 

Arnold Bax: Morning Song (Maytime in Sussex)
No piece could be in such contrast to Bax's dark and uncompromising Saga Fragment than the Morning Song (Maytime in Sussex). Andrew Burn suggests two key factors leading to the composition of this ‘light’ but satisfying piece of music. Firstly, Bax had taken a weekend break from the London Blitz during 1940. He had headed for the Sussex Downs and stayed at the White Horse Inn at Storrington. He enjoyed the atmosphere of this village so much that he rented a room at the inn on an open-ended basis. In fact it became his main residence for most of the remainder of his life. The second event was his appointment as Master of the King’s Musick. Whether he was an appropriate or satisfactory incumbent of that sinecure is a matter of debate, however it did result in a short piece written to formally celebrate the 21st birthday of Princess Elizabeth.  Harriet Cohen made a recording of this work in February 1947 and then publicly performed it at one of Sir Robert Mayer’s children’s concerts. Sir Malcolm Sargent conducted the London Symphony Orchestra. Interestingly enough, neither the recording nor the premiere coincide with the Princess’ birthday which was on 21st April!
Morning Song has been given a wee bit of a hard time by critics, for example M.E.O. writing in the Gramophone has suggested that it ‘has moments of touchingly simple lyricism, but others of aimlessness and clod-hopping as well; it is minor stuff...’
I personally think this is a lovely work. There is a freshness and a transparency about the music that suggests the composer, who was sixty-four at the time, was looking back to a simpler and happier life. This is not a literal depiction of the Sussex landscape so the ‘clod-hopping’ is disingenuous. Neither are there cows in the byre nor lambkins frisking. It is simply the reflection of a middle-aged man considering a fine landscape and a beautiful and intelligent woman who had just reached her (then) majority. It is optimistic, positive and downright gorgeous. 

David Dubery Cello Sonata (2006)
The masterpiece (in my opinion) on this present CD is the Cello Sonata. This work was originally conceived for double-bass and piano; however that work never came to pass. The Sonata was completed in 2006 and lasts for about eleven minutes. It is in three movements. This is lyrical work, that sits fairly and squarely in the late twentieth century tradition of music that does not challenge the listener with issues of musical language, but certainly makes demands on their emotional engagement. The heart of the work is the deeply-felt ‘lento’ – which is both profound and moving. The composer suggests that this music was inspired by a tramp across the hills above Varenna, near Lake Como in Italy. However all is put to rights in the frenetic ‘energico’: apart from a brief respite, this is all movement and pace. The cello part sounds extremely difficult, with the pianist’s technique is pushed a bit too. The conclusion is ‘bravura’ to say the least. This is an important Cello Sonata that must surely enter the repertoire. There is not a bar of this piece that is not interesting, enjoyable and satisfying. 
Metier MSV28523
With thanks to MusicWeb International where these reviews were first published.

No comments: