Thursday, 26 June 2014

Philip Lane: Cotswold Dances (1973)

For many listeners, the Cotswolds represent a ‘pastoral’ ideal for their music and poetry. It is easy to be transported into thoughts of some rural idyll that never really existed, except as wishful thinking. The names of the villages are evocative: Ducklington, Filkins & Broughton Poggs and Upper Swell. Rolling hills and field patterns and honey-coloured stone buildings seem to typify this area of outstanding natural beauty even in the first decades of the 21st century.
Georgian Poets have presented its charms in verse. Poster painters have created idealised images.  English composers such as Herbert Howells and Ivor Gurney have found inspiration in this idyllic landscape. Howells great Piano Quartet in A minor (1916) was dedicated ‘to the hill at Chosen (Churchdown) and Ivor Gurney who knows it’. Gerald Finzi lived for a time in the beautiful town of Painswick. Holst wrote his Cotswold Symphony, an early and to a certain extent, atypical work, which was completed in 1900. C.W. Orr’s only orchestral tone poem was entitled A Cotswold Hill Tune.

The first thing to do is to remove the confusion over the title of Philip Lane’s Cotswold Dances. The present work dates from 1973: it is the earliest orchestral piece that the composer is prepared to acknowledge. However, in 1978 Lane composed his Suite of Cotswold Dances. The two works are unrelated, except by title.
The liner notes for the Marco Polo recording of this work gives the necessary topographical information for each dance. 
The first movement or dance is entitled Seven Springs and evokes the source of the River Thames. It is easy to hear the gurgling, purling streams and to imagine the gentle, almost intimate, start of a long, watery journey to the river’s mouth at Southend - presided over by Father Thames himself. Malcolm Arnold is never far away in these pages. It is a beautiful piece. Badminton House which is renowned for the horse trials, has a touch of the ‘archaic’ in its mood, perhaps acknowledging my lord, the Duke of Beaufort’s largely eighteenth-century house. The clip-clopping of horses can be heard as well as echoes of a stately dance. A fine confection. The third movement, is Pittville Park which is in Cheltenham close to Gustav Holst’s birthplace and the famous Pump Room. The liner notes recall that Lane had many childhood walks there with ‘varying degrees of success in catching newts…in the central lake’. The music is restrained and oddly melancholic. The penultimate dance describes Cleeve Hill which dominates Cheltenham. This 1083ft hill has wide ranging views towards Exmoor in the south-west, The Malverns in the north and the Sugar Loaf Mountain in Wales. The music that Lane has created for this piece is misty and deliberately unfocussed. There is an eerie mood to this dance that reflects the adjacent ancient burial site at Belas Knap. However, all this introspection is blown away by the final Wassail Dance. It is a delightfully wayward piece that suggests Morris men, village greens and the spirit of the Festive Season. Some of the material of the Dances was culled from the composer’s student ‘notebooks’.
Andrew Lamb reviewing the Dances in The Gramophone (May 2002) noted these ‘attractive works from Lane’s own part of the country that makes a very worthwhile addition to the range of English regional dances.’ He concludes his review by suggesting that Lane’s music ‘is expertly written and has an easy-going charm that makes it well worth getting to know.’ 
Paul Snook writing in Fanfare (November 2002) states that the early Cotswold Dances, with their marvellously nostalgic melodies, borrow a leaf from Malcolm Arnold's book[s] of dance suites.’
Hubert Culot (MusicWeb International April 2002) wrote that The Cotswold Dances ‘are more in the nature of gently nostalgic vignettes, though the beautiful Cleeve Idyll really is a small-scale tone-poem, than [a] real dance movements. The last movement Wassail Song is a colourful, unidiomatic arrangement of the well-known carol’.

Philip Lane was born in Cheltenham in 1950 which is at the north-western corner of the Cotswolds. Lane’s musical achievement is considerable, however he is probably best known for his ‘light’ music and his major contribution to the reconstruction of lost film-scores.
Philip Lane’s Cotswold Dances were released on Marco Polo 8.225185. They are available as CD or download. 

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