Monday, 1 May 2017

Jim Parker: Travelling Light

I first came across the music of Jim Parker in the wonderful record made with the late John Betjeman, Banana Blush. I remember feeling that the poetry and the music were a perfect match for each other. Since that time, despite not being an avid watcher of television, I have seen Parker’s name in TV credits for programmes as diverse as House of Cards, The House of Elliot, Foyle’s War and Midsomer Murders. For the concert hall, there is a splendid Clarinet Concerto, the wonderful A Londoner in New York for brass and Mississippi Five for wind quintet.
I am beholden to the liner notes written by the composer for all information about these four works. 
A South American Journey is based on an imaginary visit to that continent. The work was originally conceived for recorder and harpsichord. The music celebrates the life of the late Stephen Dodgson, and was commissioned by John Turner, who plays the recorder in this recording. Parker has rescored the work for ‘forces available,’ which includes string quartet, harp, double bass and recorders. 
The Journey has five contrasting movements, all sporting Spanish titles: ‘Tango Cinco’, ‘Pueblo Tranquilo’, ‘Volando’, ‘La Cometa’ and ‘Rapido.’ It is a thoroughly enjoyable suite that creates an excellent Latin American atmosphere. There is much splendid virtuosic playing by John Turner.

Stephane Grappelli was one of the ‘greats’ of popular music. Along with Jean "Django" Reinhardt, he is best recalled for the performances and recordings made with the legendary Quintette du Hot Club de France. Jim Parker’s Bonjour M. Grappelli is written for string quartet and seeks to emulate the great man’s playing style without being pastiche. There are four well-balanced movements. The first introduces the tune ‘High Rise Blues’ which began life with the Barrow Poets in 1972. The second, an ‘Elegy’ is quiet and thoughtful. It is dedicated to the late Celia Sheen, the Theremin player in the Midsomer Murder TV series. It had a previous life as the theme tune to a forgotten TV series Body and Soul.  ‘Hurdy Gurdy’ was originally used in a musical for BBC TV called Petticoat Lane. I love the way the second violin plays (deliberately) a tone flat at the beginning and end of this piece. The final movement, ‘Au Revoir M Grappelli’ revisits the blues tune, with some quite romantic and thoughtful playing.

The Three Diversions were first heard at the opening of the Ida Carroll Walkway at the Royal Northern College of Music. Once again Parker has made use of themes he wrote for television. Listeners will recognise the tune in the final movement, ‘A Leave Taking’. It is based on the traditional song ‘The Leaving of Liverpool’. It was composed in memory of Anthony Hopkins, composer, pianist, musicologist and conductor. The other two Diversions are a lively ‘Spring Dance’ and a meditative ‘Paean.’ There is a definite Irish feel with much of this music. Fab! The work is scored for string quartet, recorders, double bass and harp. 

The final work on this imaginative CD is Hoofers, written for oboe and piano. The pieces are quite disconnected in titles and imagery, but make a satisfying suite. The first is in praise of the ‘Flying Scotsman’ named train running between London Kings Cross and Edinburgh. Parker has created an effective train sound.  The second piece is ‘Banjolele’, which derived its inspiration from P.G. Wodehouse’s Bertie Wooster. The protagonist was evicted from several lodgings because of his attachment to this instrument and his desire to master its intricacies. Even Jeeves walks out. No banjolele here, just a jaunty little tune with a sprightly piano accompaniment. Next comes ‘The Lonely Ballerina’ which is another reworking of a theme from Midsomer Murders. More of a reflection about a life well danced than a depiction of a night at the ballet. Quite charming. The finale is the eponymous ‘Hoofers’:  about a troop of dancers in Paris. The music is appropriate for a depiction of Hoofers – dancers. A great way to conclude the fascinating CD. The playing is simply superb.

Typically, the liner notes are excellent and give all relevant details about the music performed. There are also brief notes about the composer and the artists, but no names given for the players in the Solem Quartet. I located them in the ‘net.
It is unfortunate that dates for each work have not been given. This problem was not solved with a Google search. Even the composer’s date of birth is not included. I do believe that this information is very important to many listeners. 

This is a fantastic CD. It is full of imaginative, interesting and well-wrought music that has the distinct advantage of being totally approachable and enjoyable. Jim Parker has a unique voice in music that manages to seamlessly cross the divide between popular, classical and light.

Track Listing:
Jim PARKER (b.1934)
A South American Journey
Bonjour M. Grappelli
Three Diversions
[all pieces undated]
The Solem Quartet, Amy Tress (violin), Catherine Guy (violin), Alistair Vennart (viola) Stephanie Tress (cello); (Journey, Grappelli & Diversions)
John Turner (recorders), Anna Christensen (harp), Alex Jones (double bass), (Journey & Diversions); Richard Simpson (oboe) Janet Simpson (piano) (Hoofers)
DIVINE ART dda25146 


Paul Brownsey said...

Jim Parker wrote the music for the original Mapp and Lucia programmes in the mid-80s (the wonderful Scales-McEwan-Hawthorne version, not the 2014 adaptation). There's a memorable Edwardian waltz (Listen here: over the titles and much else to catch the ear. I have longed to find a CD of this music. I think I once wrote to Chandos urging them to put out Jim Parker CDE to follow their CD of Nigel Hess theme music.



John France said...

Thanks Paul,


David Gouldstone said...

I also love his music for the final series of Alec Clifton-Taylor's 'Six English Towns' programmes: