Monday, 26 March 2018

Anthony Hedges: West Oxford Walks for string orchestra

It is strange how a delightful little suite like Anthony Hedges’s West Oxford Walks can get totally ignored in the musical press. I was unable to find a review of this work in The Gramophone magazine, Fanfare or the American Record Guide. Even MusicWeb International does not appear to have carried a formal review of the Dutton Epoch disc released in 2006. There is, however, a short appreciation of Hedges suite provide by Paul Conway in a larger study of the composer’s music, appearing in MusicWeb.

This delightful work began life as a string quartet (c.2001), commissioned by the West Oxford Community Association and first performed by the Cotswold Ensemble. It was later arranged for string orchestra and harp, which is the version presented on the CD. Paul Conway notes that Hedges also arranged this suite for flute and piano, and, ‘following requests’ the first movement was arranged for two cellos and piano and also bassoon and piano.

Appropriately, the three movements take several localities in West Oxford for their inspiration. The first, ‘Willow Walk’ has ‘a jazzy swing’ to it which suggests a quiet saunter on a Sunday afternoon. This lane meanders down from Osney to North Hinkesy by way of recreation grounds and a few fields.  Alas, it now ends at the busy A34 which is a main trunk road connecting Winchester to Manchester.
The heart of this suite if the second movement, ‘Osiers at Osney.’ This part of Oxford is rather built up these days. However, Osney village is on the banks of the Thames, and as such has a riverside footpath, a lock and nearby pubs. Hedges opens the movement with a dreamy pastoral theme, before changing the mood to something a little more ardent. However, the wistful music returns bringing this delightful tone poem to a close.
The finale is an energetic number, reminding the listener of ‘Tumbling Bay Walk’ which heads out to open fields past tennis courts and the West Oxford Bowls Club. It is vigorous music that suggests a brisk walk or even a jog rather than a lazy walk.  The listener will be impressed by Hedges’s craftsmanship from the first bar to the last. It is a little work that should be taken up by orchestras professional, college and amateur alike.

Anthony Hedges’s West Oxfordshire Walks was released on Dutton Epoch (CDLX 7170) in 2006. The Royal Ballet Sinfonia was conducted by Gavin Sutherland. Other music includes works by Ernest Tomlinson, Clifton Parker, Victor Hely-Hutchinson, Philip Lord, Carlo Martelli and James Langley.  

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