The first piece of music by Bryan Kelly (b.1934) I ever heard was his Exultate which was included in the Oxford Book of Modern Organ Music, Volume 1 (1965). This would be around 1974. It was played at the end of the service in a Glasgow church. Since that time, I have come across a few odds and ends by this composer, including anthems, carols and liturgical music – and, on a much larger scale, his Symphony No.1. The present CD introduces the listener to a wonderful selection of Kelly’s orchestral music.
The Fantasy Overture: San Francisco was commissioned by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and premiered at the Fairfield Hall, Croydon sometime in 1975. Clearly, Bryan Kelly had recently visited that West Coast city. The liner notes by Philip Lane explain that “the composer was amused to find along Fisherman’s Wharf, groups of musicians playing for money. These included a folksinger with guitar, two trumpeters, a solo violin and a jazz band…” Somehow, Kelly has managed to work these diverse elements into his score. There are quiet moments, where some reflection on the scenery and the history of the city may be being contemplated. The overall mood is a good balance between pizzazz and contemplation. The only issue with this Overture is that it is a mood picture, with musical diversions that may be a touch too eclectic and episodic for some tastes. But in the round, this is an interesting and effective portrait of The Golden City.
Next, a visit to the mythological Calypso’s Isle. This piece is a short interlude from Kelly’s Look Stranger, on this island, for soloists, chorus and orchestra (1999), with a wide-ranging selection of texts by W.H. Auden, Derek Walcott, George Mackay Brown, William Shakespeare, John Masefield and Andrew Marvell. Calypso was a nymph or a goddess who lived on the island of Ogygia, which may be the modern Gozo. In the story she attempted to detain Odysseus from his voyage. Calypso managed this for seven years before Hermes ordered her to release him. Kelly has created a superb evocation of this mysterious island. The music is normally restrained, but just occasionally restless. The masterly scoring reveals not only an “Isle…full of noises” and a “thousand twangling instruments” but also “sweet airs, that give delight, and hurt not” (Shakespeare’s, The Tempest).
The Concerto de Camera was a wedding gift for Kelly’s friends the oboist Deidre Lind and the conductor Marcus Dods. The liner notes state that it was completed in 1972. The opening, a Moderato giocoso, is presented in a crafty sonata form. It is lively and rhythmically diverse. The thoughtful Aria balances a heartfelt melody with a chipper central section. It is the highlight of this concerto. The finale is a straightforward, good old-fashioned scherzo, with a lively minuet and a darker, but equally fast trio. It closes with a challenging (for the soloist) cadenza. This is a great concerto, which should be in the repertoire of all oboists. It is so much more than just light music. Here is a work that is interesting and arresting from the first note to the last.
The Four Realms Suite never lapses into parody or quotation. It was composed in 1972 and won a BBC competition for light orchestral music. The concept of the Suite is to highlight various national traits. Just what these are, is not stated. The titles of the movements may help. First up, is an English Jig. This is lively and a touch nautical. Then follows a Welsh Choral March. This balances slow music for brass with some capricious adventures for the woodwind. The Scottish Air is my favourite moment. This is a wistful exploration of a lovely tune, with just a touch of Celtic magic. It does not descend into tartanry at any point. It makes me think of sitting beside Loch Lomond reflecting on past-what-might-have-beens. The finale is an Irish Reel. Little more need be said. It brings this well-constructed and beautifully scored work to scintillating finish.
It is hardly surprising that Capricorn has to do with the stars. It is a set of five variations on a theme. It does not take an astrological aficionado to divine that the work’s purpose is to display some of the characteristics associated with the eponymous star-sign – sensitivity, confidence and intelligence. After the original theme, played on the clarinet, successive variations feature a lively tune exploring changing time signatures, a pensive slow movement, two energetic numbers which may or may not be a march and a dance respectively. The piece ends with sadness and soul-searching. One characteristic of the Capricorn is its craftsmanship. Every bar reveals Kelly’s coincidence with the attributes of the star sign mentioned above.
A Christmas Dance (Sir Roger de Coverley) is taken from a larger composition, Scrooge for narrator and orchestra. The present dance is heard during the party at Scrooge’s relations after he has become a changed man. It is just a little too short to gain a life of its own.
The Concerto for Two Trumpets was originally written for soloists and organ, it was later orchestrated for strings. This is a difficult (to perform) piece that showcases the trumpeters’ technique. The three movements are varied, with the thoughtful Andante providing the elegiac heart of the concerto. The final Allegro is a romp that brings this exciting work to a dramatic and finely executed conclusion.
The concluding work on this CD is Comedy Film (1963). The liner notes explain that this was one of several “orchestral suites, overtures and short pieces” written specifically for the wireless, when light music was often heard on the BBC. It is an imaginary film score which allows the audience to bring their own plot to the party. After the vibrant and sweeping Credits .and Titles, the music progresses to Night Music. Is the story going to be a romance? Perhaps. On the other hand, the Comic Interlude suggests something a little bit more Carry On. The Theme Song could be from any genre, maybe even a whodunnit. There is a touch of ‘pop’ here. The final scene is full of pure energy, vim and verve.
This is a splendid CD. It is full of interesting music that provides the listener with pleasure and delight rather than major challenges. Several soloists, orchestras and conductors (they are detailed above) contribute to the success of this new release. The recording is bright and clear, and the playing second to none. The liner notes give all the necessary particulars about the music.
There is no doubt that Bryan Kelly is a master of the orchestra. Hopefully more music from his pen will soon find its way onto CD. YouTube features the composer’s Symphony No. 1 (1983) however, this upload is not a particularly good recording, sound-wise. Suffice to say, that from what one hears, this work deserves a full professional recording: hopefully, record producers will have a listen…Track Listing:
Bryan KELLY (b.1934)
Fantasy Overture: San Francisco (1975) [11:46]
Calypso’s Isle (1999) [3:56]
Concerto da camera (1972) [12:52]
Four Realms Suite (1972) [12:12]
Capricorn (2000) [11:09]
A Christmas Dance (Sir Roger de Coverley) (2010) [2:29]
Concerto for Two Trumpets (1982) [10:31]
Comedy Film for orchestra (1963) [12:22]
Rachael Clegg (oboe), John Bradbury (clarinet), Michael Allen and Tim Hawes (trumpets)
Royal Ballet Sinfonia/Ronald Corp (Fantasy Overture, Calypso’s Isle), Gavin Sutherland (Concerto for two trumpets); Manchester Sinfonia/Bryan Kelly (Concerto da camera), Philip Spratley (Capricorn); RTE Concert Orchestra/Gavin Sutherland (Four Realms, A Christmas Dance); Raphaele Orchestra/Erwin Rondell (Comedy Film)
Rec. Angel Studios, London, 14 November 2018 (Fantasy Overture, Calypso’s Isle); 24 March 2016 (Concerto for Two Trumpets); St Thomas’s Church, Stockport 18 January 2018 (Concerto da camera, Capricorn); RTE Radio Centre, Dublin, 1 September 2015 (Four Realms Suite); 20 October 2014, (A Christmas Dance); Munich, 18 September 1968, Comedy Film for orchestra.
HERITAGE RECORDS HTGCD 180 [77:17]