Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Alec Rowley: ‘Down Channel’ Overture

This is one of the works that I have been waiting for. I first heard of this piece in Philip Scowcroft’s essay on ‘English Composer’s for Amateur No.1: Alec Rowley’, which is published on the website MusicWeb International.  Scowcroft notes that this work ‘shows that Rowley, like many British composers, looked to the sea for inspiration. We shall see other examples elsewhere among his compositions.’ It was published by Paxton in 1933. 
Rowley is best known for his piano works, many of which are written for teaching purposes. However, he did compose a number of works for orchestra including a Concertino for organ & string, A Nautical Suite, three piano concertos and an English Suite for string orchestra.
At present he is represented on disc by a mere six work, the most important being his Concerto for piano, strings and percussion.
The ‘Down Channel’ Overture is written in classical ‘overture’ form – which the composer suggested really meant written in ‘sonata form.’  The main themes of the piece are founded on the tunes ‘A-Roving’ and ‘Shenandoah’. However, Beryl Kington in her study of the composer has indicated that there are ‘snatches of ‘The Girl I Left Behind’ and ‘Hearts of Oak’ presented in the ‘development’ section of the overture. The coda of the piece includes the tune ‘A-Roving in its entirety.  The work is scored for full orchestras, including double woodwind, brass section including tuba, glockenspiel, percussion and strings.
Guild has included ‘Channel Firing’ on their latest CD in the Guild Golden Age of Light Music series ‘No-stop to Nowhere.’  It was originally recorded by the London Promenade Orchestra, conducted by Walter Collins in 1946. It was released on Paxton PR402.
I do wonder if the work has been cut down to fit onto one side of a 78rpm record as the play-tome of 2:48 seems a little bit meagre for an overture of this length.
‘Down Channel’ was broadcast on 31 December 1931 on the BBC: it was the work’s firs performance. The BBC Light Orchestra was conducted by Joseph Lewis. Rowley felt that it has ‘come through very well’ on a wireless broadcast two years previously.  I found a reference in the Singaporean Straights Times indicating that the work was relayed to Singapore in 1935 from the Hotel Majestic in St. Anne’s-on-Sea in Lancashire. It was played by Jack Martin and his Hotel Majestic Orchestra.
The overture is an attractive work that cries out for a modern day recording. Certainly there are a number of other striking pieces in Alec Rowley’s repertoire that could form part of a ‘retrospective’ CD of orchestral music –these include the evocative sounding ‘From a Devon Headland’, ‘Miniatures in Porcelain’, and the above mentioned ‘Nautical Suite’. 

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