Friday 12 December 2008

Adam Pounds: Festival Overture (1987)

The Festival Overture is one of those works that appeals on a first hearing and does not require a great effort of analysis or study. However, this is not to imply for one moment that the work is in any way vacuous or lacking in depth or musical craftsmanship. It is a fine example of an approachable, enjoyable piece of music written for a particular occasion. It deserves our attention.
The work opens with a snatch of the rhythmical figure that dominates the piece. Soon the brass takes over becomes a vital part of the musical development. However, the heart of the work is a short ‘Cheltenham’ style tune on the strings that attempts to establish itself but does not quite succeed until the end of the work. The work concludes with a fairly traditional coda. The only weak part of this work is the mini ‘cadenza’ for drums in the middle of the piece. I am not convinced that this percussive outburst does not detract from the musical coherence of the overture as a whole. The composer told me that the “original idea was that the players would be placed left, right and centre stage in order to create an exciting ambient effect…” Yet I feel that the balance of the work is somewhat skewed by this passage.

Stylistically it is difficult to place this piece. Perhaps I was reminded of the sentiment behind Malcolm Arnold’s Fourth Symphony, but perhaps this is simply due to the ‘West Indian’ nods – such as the roto-toms, which have been used to great effect in the past by groups as diverse as Pink Floyd and Van Halen. Obviously Pounds’s study with Sir Lennox Berkeley has not gone unnoticed.
The music as a whole is typified by drive and verve. The composer told me that he wanted to write a piece that would reflect the ‘urban environment and that would fuse several styles together.’ This is reflected in the instrumentation which includes an alto saxophone and an impressive percussion section. Although there is a jazz feel to some of this music, it is not an ‘American’ piece. Pounds uses various dance rhythms that lend excitement and panache to this work. But I feel that the key to the work is the ‘Cheltenham’ phrase that is constantly trying to break through the more exotic rhythms.
The Overture was commissioned by the Waltham Forest Arts Council for the 1987 Arts Festival in that borough. There was additional support from the then Greater London Arts fund.
Finally, the composer told me that the work was to have been recorded by the BBC for broadcast on Radio 3. The session had been arranged with the BBC concert orchestra and the late Vernon Handley was booked to conduct. Pounds added that the plan came to nothing “due to bad weather in December 1991 (I think that was the year) 'Todd' found that he was snowed in, in Wales and couldn’t get to London. The recording session was postponed but then the set –up at the BBC was changed. The listening panel was disbanded and Nicholas Kenyon became controller of Radio 3. Despite assurances from them that the work would be broadcast, it never has and I was eventually sent back he orchestral material.”
The work is presently available on Cambridge Recordings CAMREC002

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