Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Luke Whitlock: Flowing Waters

The CD of Luke Whitlock’s chamber and piano music opens with the attractive Suite Antique for piano which was composed between 2011 and 2012. It was premiered the following year by the present pianist, Duncan Honeybourne in Leominster. This is a satisfying study of the old dance forms, including the usual allemande, courante, sarabande, gavotte, minuet and gigue. Suite Antique is a quirky work in the sense that Whitlock applies a mid-twentieth century neo-classicism to the ancient dances, tinged with just a hint of minimalism and a little bit of tongue-in-cheek.

The title track, Flowing Waters was a commission from the Arts Council of Wales and Welsh Government. It is a musical portrayal of the River Teign in Devon.   The music matches the river as it rises near Cranmere Pool, becomes a stream flowing through Dartmoor until it finally reaches the sea at Teignmouth.  It is long piece: some eleven minutes of music, which owes something (but not everything) to the minimalists Steve Reich and Philip Glass. Schumann and Beethoven, even, may be influences too.  The sound world is largely diatonic, without ever becoming insipid. There are some very attractive changes of key and harmony as the work develops.  This is an individual work that allows the performer and the listener plenty of time to think, mediate even, on the flow of water and possibly life itself.

The Three Pieces for wind trio (2012, rev 2014) is a programmatic work that is designed to depict certain moods of landscape and the listener’s interaction with it. The opening ‘As Shadows Fall’ is a beautiful evening meditation. The second piece ‘Morning Escapades’ commences as pure fun – it is almost describing Famous Five-like adventures. There is a little bit of repose in the middle section which suggests a snooze in the sun or a tea break. The final movement is ‘The Midnight Journey’. This is quite an inward-looking little number, although as the piece develops so does the momentum, only to reach a sense of calm at the conclusion. Whitlock states that these three movements can be played separately at a concert: I disagree. I think it makes a perfect sequence of well-balanced short musical poems for a relatively unusual instrumental combination. The composer has mastered the difficult art of writing ‘wind’ chamber music. It deserves success.
‘Evening Prayer’ for piano solo (2104) is another landscape piece that evokes tolling bells and a tranquil reflection on life inspired by both Christian and Buddhist mediation. It is spacious and quite lovely in its tender unfolding.

The Flute Sonata is the major work on this disc.  It was composed for the flautist Anna Stokes in 2007 and revised in 2013. The composer explains that it was his first foray into the complexities of ‘sonata form’ and that it reveals his interest in similar works by Poulenc and Prokofiev. I found that the opening movement had a ‘pop’ feel, and that is certainly no criticism. Here and there, Whitlock introduces something a little wayward into the flute part. The slow movement calls for ‘much expression’ and seems to conform to the introspective side of his compositional nature. He makes splendid use of the flute’s resources and tone colour as this movement builds up and subsides. The finale is short, full of vigour and played with ‘much movement.’ It is almost ‘Arnoldian’ in its exploitation of big tunes. 
The balance of the flute and piano is well contrived and leads to a satisfying work. I imagine that it will be taken up by flautists: it is certainly an attractive and approachable piece. 

The final piece on this CD is the earliest work. Composed in 2002, the Faust and Mephisto Waltz is meant to be humorous. It certainly achieves its aim and must not be taken too seriously. The musical material derives from a score Whitlock wrote for a silent film. It has all the appurtenances of Harold Lloyd. This is pure parody, pastiche and downright fun.

Luke Whitlock was born in 1978 into a musical family. From an early age he was involved in music-making, and began to compose in this early teens. He studied at Dartington College of Art and subsequently at the Royal College of Music.  He gained a post-graduate certificate in education from the University of Plymouth.
In addition to composition, Whitlock has worked at the RCM programming and co-ordinating chamber music concerts in and around London. He has taught at the Royal Welsh College and led workshops at Dartington.  At the present time, he is employed by the BBC working on Radio 3 and 4 programmes, including Composer of the Week and Discovering Music.  He is also undertaking post-graduate research at the University of Aberdeen.  Luke Whitlock has an excellent and informative website.

This has proved to be an attractive and interesting retrospective of approachable and well-constructed compositions. Whitlock has benefited here from enthusiastic and sympathetic playing from all the soloists. I look forward to hearing more from this composer’s pen.

Luke WHITLOCK (b.1978)
Suite Antique (2011-12)
Flowing Water (2014)
Three Pieces for Wind Trio (2012 rev. 2014)
Evening Prayer (2014)
Flute Sonata (2007, rev. 2013)
The Faust and Mephisto Waltz (2002, rev. 2014)
Duncan Honeybourne (piano); Anna Stokes (flute); James Meldrum (clarinet); Vicky Crowell (bassoon); Wai-Yin Lee (piano, Flute sonata)
DIVINE ART dda25121


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