Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Christopher Irvin: Joie de Vivre Orchestral & Choral Works Volume 2

The first track is the jaunty little overture Love Child that cleverly mixes and matches a Great War recruitment march, a passage straight out of a Savoy opera, music that reminds me of William Alwyn’s score to the Alec Guinness film The Card, a waltz and a Suffragette’s song. The piece was drawn from music ‘developed’ for the eponymous musical which had been performed by students at Huddersfield Technical College (Kirklees College).
The lilting ‘Anniversary Intermezzo’ is extracted from the composer’s musical, Breeding, which is based on ‘William Cobbett’s polemical play Surplus Population [and the Poor Law Bill] (1731). In some ways the music does seem a little anodyne when set against the theme of the play – equal rights of the labouring poor in rural England and a blast against Malthus’ population control programme. 

Irvin does seem to recycle his music. A good example is the pleasing and well-written Oboe Concerto which was ‘developed’ (that word again) from a number of oboe and piano pieces written around the turn of the millennium. The three movement work explores some ‘styles ancien’ especially prominent in the Siciliano and Trio. There are plenty of enjoyable moments in this work and the oboe is skilfully played by Richard Weigall. It would make a good addition to the repertoire of that instrument.
When I read the title of the CD, I noticed that it was ‘Orchestral & Choral Works Volume 2’, yet there was no choir, chorus or vocal ensemble noted in the list of performers. The song ‘They Will be Remembered’ suddenly appeared on the CD player complete with vocals. Who are they? Is it the RTÉ Choir? This piece is taken from the above mentioned musical Love Child. The words and the music are just that little bit sentimental for their own good.
Edwardian Waltzes were ‘developed’ from Act 1 finale of the seemingly bottomless pit of musical invention Love Child. New material has been added to complete this enjoyable confection.
The Slavonic Variations are ‘a completely new symphonic movement’ based on a C minor theme. It is a well written work that is not so much ‘light’ in character as timeless – it could have been composed virtually any time over the past 140 years.
When I first saw this CD, the piece that caught my eye was Tales from Hebden Woods. I wondered if the inspiration was that rather cool’ and ‘bohemian’ market town in the West Riding, Hebden Bridge. And it was! The music is a medley taken from a number of Christmas plays performed locally at the Bridge Theatre. Cleary nodding to Strauss’ Vienna Woods in its title, the mood is more end of pier than anything else. There is a lot of fun in these pages and occasionally something a little more serious. Attitudes and events considered are ‘positive thinking’, a magical Widdershins (walking round anti-clockwise), and a Goblin theme. The work ends with a lot of panache and a bit of a swing.
The Divertissement for chamber orchestra was composed for a local West Riding ‘voluntary music ensemble’. The composer has cleverly and rather wittily created a ten minute piece that makes use of the available instrumental forces. In some ways it is a mini ‘concerto for orchestra’, allowing each soloist to display their ‘expertise.’ The style is catchy and the music is clearly fun to play. One of the best pieces on this disc.
The ‘Lullaby, Homeless Baby’ was worked up from a pantomime song: it has been transformed into a Christmas carol.  It is a pretty little number, which allows for full audience participation, if appropriate. The main modal melody is quite memorable. Once again this is sung by the ‘nameless choir’.
The White Rose Serenade was originally a piano piece that has been ‘developed’ into an epitome of a piece of light music. Tuneful and well scored this work clearly owes it musical style to the bandstands of Yorkshire as well as the palm-court music of Harrogate.
The final work is the Joie de Vivre Waltz. The liner notes point out that this piece was written to combat the bias of New Year’s Day music broadcasts towards Austrian waltzes. This is a definite Yorkshire (or Lancashire) example that promulgates the privilege of living in splendid towns like Todmorden, Hebden Bridge, Morecambe and Halifax, all places where Christopher Irwin has had his music performed (and I have spent happy and interesting days). On a more serious note, this last waltz was written at a time of family illness and loss, so it is not surprising that a touch of melancholy occasionally appears. The ending is thoughtful rather than champagne corks a-popping. It is my favourite piece on this CD.

The liner notes are written by the composer and provide all the information required (except what choir is singing). The unattributed cover picture of a bandstand defines the mood of many of the works on this CD. The RTÉ and Messrs. Sutherland and Longstaff, give good convincing performances of all these works.
This is an enjoyable disc of light music that hat tips toward the Edwardian era of Elgar, German, Finck and Monckton. 

Track Listing:
Love Child: Overture (2014)
Anniversary Intermezzo (2013)
Oboe Concerto (2011)
They will be remembered * (2014)
Edwardian Waltzes * (2014)
Slavonic Variations (2013)
Tales from Hebden Wood (2009)
Divertissement for chamber orchestra (2013)
Lullaby, Homeless Baby * (2010)
White Rose Serenade * (2013)
Joie de Vivre Waltz (2012)
Richard Weigall (oboe)
The RTÉ Concert Orchestra/Gavin Sutherland* & John Longstaff.
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published.

No comments: