Wednesday 29 March 2023

George Macfarren (1813-87) The Soldier’s Legacy: An Opera da Camera in Two Acts (1864)

Many enthusiasts of early Victorian music will have encountered George Macfarren’s Symphonies Nos. 4 and 7 issued on CPO 999 433-2 recorded in 1997. Jonathan Woolf in his review of this present CD (here), laments the fact that what seemed to be the beginning of a promising symphonic cycle was apparently stopped in its tracks. Some listeners may have had the pleasure of hearing Macfarren’s opera Robin Hood, issued by Retrospect Opera in 2011 on NAXOS 8.660306-07. Other works by this composer recorded on CD include the overtures She stoops to Conquer and Chevy Chase. 

The Soldier’s Legacy was written at the behest of Mr. and Mrs. German Reed who had inaugurated a series of “Opera da Camera” (chamber operas). To what extent the overall project was a success is a matter of debate. Macfarren had already provided a short piece, Jessy Lea for this series. As a result of its success, he was commissioned to compose the present opera to a libretto by the English dramatist, critic and translator, John Oxenford (1812-77).  It was first heard at the Royal Gallery of Illustration, Regent Street, London during October 1864.

The late Nicholas Temperley has offered a context for this opera. He wrote Macfarren was “the pioneer of English nationalism” and that The Soldier’s Legacy is “his most thoroughgoing nationalist opera.” Elaborating on this, the Retrospect Opera webpage explains that “while his British contemporaries were still, very consciously, seeking out and absorbing influences from Italian, German and French Romantic opera, Macfarren, equally consciously, sought to create a truly English style of opera inspired by folksong.” This trajectory would find fulfilment in Ralph Vaughan Williams’s Hugh the Drover and Gustav Holst’s At the Boar’s Head.

The Soldier’s Legacy has a cast of four, with a piano accompaniment. The addition of the harmonium to provide birdsong is a nice touch. I do not wish to plot spoil. However, the top line story is quite simple. The opera is set in the village of Tutbury, Staffordshire, which is a real and very attractive location. On the battlefield at Salamanca, Spain, the hero Jack Weatherall has promised his dying friend, Dick Firebrand, that he would look after the man’s child, Charlie. On return to England, he visits the village where he meets the heroine, Lotty. A subplot concerns Widow Wantley, who has set her cap at Christopher Caracole, who in turn is enamoured of his ward of court, the self-same Lotty. The happy conclusion results after the confusion of names and gender are sorted out. Everyone lived happily ever after.

Musically, there is nothing to challenge the listener. Certainly, nothing here that Mendelssohn would have blanched at. Nevertheless, one cannot help but think of the operas by Gilbert and Sullivan as this work progresses. This is a highly melodic opera, with lots of good tunes and vivacious duets, trios, and quartets. There is much wit here, although I guess that some of the humour is of its era.  It is good that Respect Opera have included the spoken parts of the libretto. So often this is omitted in recordings.

The singing by all four performers is ideal. Every word, every syllable, is clearly enunciated. Despite Macfarren’s apparent repudiation of Italian coloratura singing, he gives considerable scope to Rachel Spears to indulge in these vocal gymnastics. I disagree with Jonathan Woolf in his assessment when he suggests that “Perhaps it would have been nice to have had a Tudor Davies (who recorded Hugh the Drover in 1924) for tenor, something more clarion than Joseph Doody can quite provide…” Doody gives an excellent, subtle “chamber” performance of Jack Weatherall’s “heroic” part. The deep tones of Gaynor Keeble playing Widow Wantley and the warmth of Quentin Hayes in his role as Christopher Caracole add considerable value to the charm of this opera. The pianist Jonathan Fisher does a magnificent job with the involved accompaniment. The part for harmonium, emulating birdsong, is played by Edward Dean.

The booklet includes a detailed study of The Soldier’s Legacy written by Stephen Banfield and David Chandler. It comments on the date, place, context and the opera’s reception. There are the usual brief notes about the performers. The booklet incorporates the full libretto, complete with stage directions. The CD cover features an extract from a coloured engraving of Richard Westall’s Salamanca 22nd July 1812. The entire painting is printed on the rear page of the booklet.

Retrospect Opera is a registered charity whose aim is to “record important British operas and related musical works of the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries.” Previous projects have included Ethel Smyth’s The Wreckers and her The Boatswain’s Mate, Charles Dibdin’s The Wags and Edward Loder’s Raymond and Agnes. Charles Villiers Stanford’s Shamus O’Brien is currently (February 2023) being recorded. I look forward eagerly to hearing this production.

Track Listing:
George Macfarren (1813-87)

The Soldier’s Legacy: An Opera da Camera in Two Acts (1864)
Lotty: Rachel Spears (soprano),
Widow Wantley: Gaynor Keeble (mezzo-soprano),
Jack Weatherall: Joseph Doody (tenor),
Christopher Caracole: Quentin Hayes (baritone),
Jonathan Fisher (piano), Edward Dean (harmonium)
rec. 13-15 December 2021, St Thomas Church, Stockport, Cheshire.
Booklet includes English sung text and notes in English.
Retrospect Opera RO009
With thanks to MusicWeb International, where this review was first published.

Sunday 26 March 2023

John Ireland: Spring Sorrow (1918)

John Ireland (1879-1962) had already set two of war-poet Rupert Brooke’s (1887-1915) most memorable poems, The Soldier and Blow out, You Bugles, Blow, which were composed in early 1918. Later that year, he completed a third, Song (All suddenly the wind comes soft) which Ireland renamed Spring Sorrow. All three poems were taken from Brooke’s 1914 and Other Poems, published in May 1915. 

All suddenly the wind comes soft,
And Spring is here again;
And the hawthorn quickens with buds of green
And my heart with buds of pain.

My heart all Winter lay so numb,
The earth so dead and frore, [frosty]
That I never thought the Spring would come,
Or my heart wake any more

But Winter's broken and earth has woken
And the small birds cry again.
And the hawthorn hedge puts forth its buds,
And my heart puts forth its pain.

Despite possible allusions to wartime sentiments in Brooke’s Song, it was in fact penned in 1912. This was a troubled year for the poet, with several difficult relationships with both men and women. He suffered a mental breakdown. The following year he travelled extensively in the United States, Canada, and the South Seas.  Rupert Brooke returned to England in 1914.

A major theme of this poem is the advent of spring, with the hawthorn buds “quickening” and the snows of winter beginning to melt.  The birds are singing again. However, the poet is metaphorically related to the budding hawthorn hedge where his “heart puts forth its pain.”

Muriel V. Searle in her study of the composer (John Ireland: The Man and His Music, Tunbridge Wells: Midas Books, 1979, p.52), wrote that “the message of the last page of the song was the message of life itself, as the struggle drew towards its close: peace will come, spring will come again. But not yet...”

Ireland’s pupil, Charles Markes (ed. Lewis Foreman, The John Ireland Companion, Aldershot, The Boydell Press, 2011, p.280) has written that “Ireland was bound to react to this poem by Rupert Brooke, as it so faithfully portrays his own feelings.”  In her thesis Meanings in the Music of John Ireland (University of Birmingham, 2000, p.276) Fiona Richards suggests that Ireland’s “decision to set Spring sorrow in April 1918…was because of this mingling of nature, lyricism and personal emotions, all set against the melancholy backdrop of the war.”

The song is straightforward, with a ternary form structure. Melodically it is simple.There are few accidentals, the most important being the flattened 7th that occurs at the end of the song and at a few other places. Vocally, the melodic line is characterised by straightforward rhythms, melodic “steps, skips and broken chords” and an effective falling seventh. Michael Pilkington (English Solo Song Guide to the Repertoire: Gurney, Ireland, Quilter and Warlock, London, Thames 1989, p.69) notes the “gently moving harmonies in four or five parts, as if designed for string quartet.”

Muriel V. Searle (op.cit, p.52) explains that Ireland had pondered over three possible endings to the song. He played them on the piano to Markes. There was “one ordinary, one more original, and the third having one of those twists of an unexpected accidental that make Ireland’s music unmistakable. He is reputed to have asked Markes “Which one do you like?” “That one” replied the pupil, “Because of that flat.”

John Ireland’s Spring Sorrow was premiered at the Wigmore Hall on 3 October 1918. The soloist was Muriel Foster, soprano and Harold Samuel, piano. The Times (4 October 1918, p.9) reported that “Miss Foster…put much of herself, that is, a stately conception of the song and a sustained, dignified pure tone – into three styles – the Italian, the impressionist, and the narrative.” The former included works by the Florentine composer, Raffaello Rontani and the second were settings of Verlaine and Baudelaire by the German-American Charles Loeffler. The final group featured songs by Marjory Kennedy-Fraser and two new songs by John Ireland: I have twelve oxen and Spring Song [sic] by John Ireland. The critic suggests that these latter numbers show him “making use of an individual manner in a simple practical way.”

Finally, Charles Markes (op.cit, p.180) has stated that “This song is of imperishable beauty, its very simplicity and perfection almost defy adequate performance…”

The sheet music of Spring Sorrow was published by Winthrop Rogers Ltd in 1918, in two keys, F major and Ab major.

Several versions of this song have been uploaded to YouTube. I have chosen Mark Stone and Sholto Kynoch’s version on Stone Records (5060192780260), here.  

Thursday 23 March 2023

Alun Hoddinott: Symphony No.5, op.81 (1973) Part 2 Early Performances and Reviews

Alun Hoddinott’s Symphony No.5 (1973) was premiered at the Royal Festival Hall on 6 March 1973. The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra was conducted by Andrew Davis. The concert also included Robert Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A minor, with the soloist Shura Cherkassky. The evening concluded with Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No.5. Interestingly, at the same time, the legendary keyboardist George Malcolm, was performing all five of Rameau’s keyboard suites in the adjacent Queen Elizabeth Hall. 

Max Harrison, writing in the following day’s Times (7 March 1973, p.11) felt that Hoddinott’s new symphony “does not mark any significant advance on his development.” This is hardly an issue. Further, “like a lot of his music in recent years, it seems too closely argued, the material to intensively argued.” Elaborating on this theme, Harrison suggests that some of the “incidental detail – of harmony, for instance - is interesting; yet although the linear shapes appear wide, the differences between this symphony’s loud and soft, or slow and fast, is only external.” That is, I think a way of stating that Hoddinott has devised his score using the minimum of thematic material.  The critic thinks that the interest is “applied from the outside, by a mechanical increase – or decrease – of volume, rather than by the ebb and flow of musical argument.”  The nub of Harrison’s argument is that the symphony has “an earthbound density of texture which scarcely ever permits the music to breathe.” Listening to this symphony fifty years later, I find no such lack of musical suffocation. Harrison’s last word, has a sting in the tail: “Andrew Davis secured from the Royal Philharmonic a performance that sounded fiercely committed, but which, under the circumstances, could not convince.”

Stephen Walsh, reviewing the concert for The Observer (11 March 1973, p.34) is equally dismissive. He notes that the work was conceived in Tuscany but felt that it “must have been written mainly in Cardiff, for, like its predecessors, it’s a gritty, uncompromising piece, prepared to graft for its effect and not much concerned with local colour.”  Walsh thinks that “Hoddinott’s symmetries look all right on paper. In performance they seem a little arbitrary, and the pugnacious style of the music not quite clearly motivated.” Finally, he considers that the “work impresses as a serious symphonic essay. But it doesn’t at once inspire affection.

It is amazing what a difference five days can make. Felix Aprahamian, (Sunday Times, 11 March 1973, p.29) reflecting on that coming evening’s performance at the Cardiff Festival of Hoddinott’s Symphony No.5, had only good things to say. Presumably, he had had access to the score, and possibly attended the rehearsals. Certainly, he may have heard the work performed at the Festival Hall. He wrote, “Even if Hoddinott’s Fifth, exactly half the length of Elgar’s First, may not enjoy the same initial success, there is no need for it to be shelved after this airing, for it is a very accomplished piece.” Aprahamian notes that the “two well balanced movements show a familiar occupation with formal symmetry” where the composer “varies his textures as tellingly as his timbres [creating] a strongly visual response.” Finally, the critic hoped that it would soon be released on record.  He did not have long to wait. Decca released the Symphony on LP (SXL 6606) in March 1974. It was coupled with the Concerto for Horn and Orchestra, op.65 and the Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, op.21.

Malcolm Boyd reviewing the Cardiff performance of the Symphony for the Musical Times (May 1973, p.518) considered that “the main interest [of the Festival] lay in Hoddinott's recently completed Fifth Symphony…It is a colourful work, embodying some of the composer's experiences during a visit to Switzerland and Italy; but, as this second hearing showed, its imaginative orchestral textures are always at the service of a convincing musical argument. The athletic Mr Davis secured what seemed like a first-rate performance.”

Finally, I think that the Symphony is best summed up by Trevor Harvey reviewing the Decca LP SXL 6606, (The Gramophone, March 1974, p.1699) who wrote that “The idiom is both tough and lyrical; for Hoddinott is, within a modern idiom, a romantic.” This is true. Listening to the work fifty years after its premiere, I was struck by the clever balance between great intensity, soaring strings and expressive woodwind solos. Much of the quieter passages are introspective in their effect. As Harvey wrote, “The music is never sectional, music less static, but moves purposefully, so that each contrasted mood comes naturally, linking to what has gone before.”

Alun Hoddinott’s Symphony No.5 can be heard on YouTube, in the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra recording conducted by Andrew Davis.

Monday 20 March 2023

Notes on Alun Hoddinott: Symphony No.5, op.81 (1973) Part 1

Alun Hoddinott was one of the most significant Welsh/British composers of the second half of the twentieth century. His musical output was considerable and covered virtually every form and genre from opera to his ten symphonies. He was born in Bargoed, Glamorganshire on 11 August 1929. After an education at Gowerton Grammar School he went up to University College in Cardiff.  He was a founder member of the National Youth Orchestra of Wales. After university he studied with the composer Arthur Benjamin. Apart from composing, Hoddinott held a number of academic posts including lecturer in music at the Welsh College of Music and Drama, and then as Lecturer, Reader and Professor of Music at University College, Cardiff. In 1967 he co-founded the Cardiff Festival of Music with the pianist John Ogdon. Alun Hoddinott died on 11 March 2008.

Hoddinott’s musical style was eclectic. He embraced serialism and aleatory music, jazz and popular idioms through to his ‘nocturnal’ moods often characterised by dense chromaticism and ‘brooding’ Celtic intensity.

Hoddinott’s Symphony No.5, op.81 was completed in February 1973. It was a commission from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra with additional fund from the Welsh Arts Council. It is scored for a large orchestra with a large percussion section and harp. The work is dedicated “To Moelwyn Merchant with great affection and admiration.”

William Moelwyn Merchant (1913-97) was an academic, writer, sculptor, poet and Anglican priest. He wrote libretti for Alun Hoddinott, including the oratorio The Tree of Life (1971) and The Bells of Paradise, a Christmas cantata (1984).

The composer explained: “The ideas for this symphony began to emerge during a summer stay in Switzerland and Italy, and it would perhaps be not too fanciful to detect here and there in the score the presence of alpine horns, cattle bells, and Tuscan mists. The music is in two movements - first an Allegro which is formed as an interrupted passacaglia. A ritornello-like section precedes and concludes the movement and also provides the interruptions. This music is more agitated and rhythmic than the broadly flowing lines of the passacaglia.”

For reference, a Passacaglia is typically a slow instrumental piece characterized by a series of variations on a particular theme played over a repeated bass part. Ritornello here implies a returning musical passage in between new sections of music.

Hoddinott wrote that “the second movement is in six sections, reflecting in an arch-form - that is, 1 and 6, 2 and 5, 3 and 4. A slow tempo reflects a fast and the sequence is adagio, allegretto, andante, allegro, adagio, and presto.”

Basil Deane (Liner Notes SXL 6606) provides a succinct discussion of Alun Hoddinott’s Symphony No.5. He begins by explaining that “Hoddinott’s symphonies have been central to his development. Through them he has explored new sonorities on the full orchestra and has evolved varied large-scale structures drawing on pre-classical as well as classical techniques and integrating diverse formal structures.” Turning to the present work he states that this exploration has continued here.

Finally, Deane notes that “material from the first movement is integrated in this [the second] movement.” The resulting work has “wide scope and contrast as well as overriding unity, one in which the composer’s distinctive musical personality is manifest.”

The premiere performance of the Symphony was given at the Royal Festival Hall, London, on 6 March 1973. The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra was conducted by Andrew Davis. The work was published in 1975, by Oxford University Press. In 1973, the Symphony No.5 was issued on a Decca LP (SXL 6606). It was coupled with the Concerto for Horn and Orchestra, op.65 and the Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, op.21. The LP was recorded at the Kingsway Hall, London in 13-15 March 1973. The soloists were Martin Jones, piano and Barry Tuckwell Horn. The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra was conducted by Andrew Davis. It was re-released on Lyrita SRCD 331 in 1996. Here it is coupled with Hoddinott’s Symphonies No.2 and No.3.

Alun Hoddinott’s Symphony No.5 can be heard on YouTube, in the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra recording conducted by Andrew Davis.

To be continued…

Friday 17 March 2023

Charles-Marie Widor: Gothique and Romane Organ Symphonies

Pierre Labric is best recalled today for his cycles of the organ symphonies of Charles-Marie Widor and Louis Vierne. These were made between 1969 and 1974 on the stunning Cavaillé-Coll organ in the Saint-Ouen Abbey Church in Rouen. 

There are no biographical details for Pierre Labric given in the CD booklet. Briefly, he was born in Rouen in 1921, and after study at the local conservatory with the French composer, organist and conductor, Marcel Lanquetuit, went up to the Paris Conservatoire. There he studied organ with Marcel Dupré and harmony with Maurice Duruflé. He was assistant to Jeanne Demessieux at La Madeleine, Paris and latterly to Pierre Cochereau at Notre Dame Cathedral. Aside from Widor and Vierne, Labric has made essential recordings of Demessieux, Eugène Reuchsel and Liszt.

The present CD is the second instalment of the Widor symphonic cycle.  Symphonies Nos. 5 and 6 were issued in 2022 to celebrate Pierre Labric’s 101st birthday. It is reviewed here. The Solstice CD website explains that the companies aim was to “rescue the recorded legacy of Pierre Labric from oblivion.” Although the Widor Symphonies had been released in the United States by the Musical Heritage Society, it suffered from a “mediocre pressing.” Fortunately, a “miracle happened.” The booklet recalls that aware “of our problems, a Rouen doctor informed us that he had just acquired at auction (!) a fair number of tapes from the original collection.” I have used the nomenclature of each work as given in the liner notes. There are others in use.

By and large, the first eight of Widor’s organ symphonies are secular in impact. But when he composed the Gothique and the Romane symphonies, he looked to plainchant as an inspiration. They took on a sacred or mystical character.

Widor wrote the Neuvième Symphonie pour orgue “Gothique,” op.70 during 1895. It was dedicated to the Church of Saint-Ouen in Rouen. Organ enthusiasts will know that the Cavaillé-Coll instrument there is regarded as one of the most superb built by that renowned company.

The opening Moderato seeks calm from the first note to the last, and rarely finds it. This is truly “tormented” music. It has been suggested that this movement “depicts the severe imposing facade of the basilica.” This is followed by the contrasting and prayerful Andante sostenuto with its labyrinth-like twisting melody. Widor introduces plainsong into the third movement Allegro. Here he has used the Christmas introit Puer Natus Est (A Boy is Born) which is introduced on the pedals. The substance of this movement is basically a fugue alla gigue. I have noted before that the finale, another Moderato, has been likened to a historical trip through organ music history (past, present and even, perhaps, the future) culminating in a ‘toccata’ that is fairly and squarely Widor’s own. Interestingly, the movement ends quietly. It is an effective set of variations.

In the Dixième Symphonie pour orgue “Romane,” op.73, Widor uses two plainsong chants, the Easter Sunday Gradual, Haec Daes (This is the Day) in the first, second and final movements and part of the Easter Sequence, Victimae paschali laudes in the melancholic slow movement. There are four movements: Moderato, Choral, Cantilène and Final.

The Symphonie was finished in Lyon during 1899. Once again it was dedicated to a building:  Saint-Sernin in Toulouse, a large Romanesque church, complete with a Cavaillé-Coll organ which is also regarded as one of the finest in France.

Albert Schweitzer once wrote that: “When one Sunday (in 1900) still striving with technical problems, [Widor] played for the first time in St. Suplice the Symphonie Romane, I felt with him that in this work the French art of organ playing had entered sacred art.”  It could be construed that the entire Symphonie is a set of variations on the Gradual for Easter Sunday, Haec Daes quam fectit Dominus (This is the day which the Lord hath made). Certainly, the diverse musical material that Widor builds from his “theme” is impressive. There are some complex Listzian figurations and chromaticism that contrast with modal melodies and harmonies. The final movement is interesting with its huge climaxes and long decrescendo to the quiet ending. It is a forgotten “warhorse.”

The liner notes give a detailed exposition of these two massive organ symphonies. This is preceded by an overview of Widor’s life and achievement. It is printed in French and English. The all-important organ specification of the Cavaillé-Coll instrument is included. This magnificent instrument was installed in 1890 and was one of the last to be built under the supervision of Aristide. The organ has remained almost intact, despite some restoration work carried out in 1941 and 1955. As noted above, the booklet does not give any biographical details about Pierre Labric.

The recording is superb and reveals no suggestion of the above mentioned “mediocre pressings.” That said, I did feel that some of the passages are a little “bright” in places. But typically, the Rouen Cavaillé-Coll instrument is heard in all its glory. I find Pierre Labric’s recital satisfying, inspiring, and moving throughout.

I look forward to subsequent issues in this series of Charles Marie Widor’s Organ Symphonies.

Track Listing:
Charles-Marie Widor (1844-1937)

Neuvième Symphonie pour orgue “Gothique,” op.70 (1895)
Dixième Symphonie pour orgue “Romane,” op.73 (1899)
Pierre Labric (organ)
rec. 6-7 July 1971, Saint-Ouen Abbey Church, Rouen, France.
Solstice SOCD400
With thanks to MusicWeb International where this review was first published. 

Tuesday 14 March 2023

Edward German: Suite for flute and piano (1889)

Edward German is a composer who is usually remembered - where he is remembered at all - for one work - the opera Merrie England. However, he was a prolific composer, who wrote in several genres including symphonies, tone poems, incidental music, piano pieces and chamber works. German composed in a style that was fashionable at that time (late Victorian/Edwardian) – he was not a mould-breaker or musical prophet. Yet, he was a first-rate craftsman and had an uncanny ability to write good melodies – even if they tended to be a little sentimental. 

The Suite for flute and piano is a good example of Victorian English music at its best. It is clear that there are definite touches of Sir Arthur Sullivan about this music. Yet German is not content simply to replicate the older man’s successes. This is a short, but beautifully constructed piece that well deserves its place in the flute repertoire. Furthermore, and I know this may seem rather perverse, there are one or two phrases from the opening Valse gracieuse (and elsewhere) that seem to anticipate none other than Malcolm Arnold! The middle movement, a Souvenir, is quite a considerable piece. It certainly challenges any suggestion that German is simply a ‘light music’ composer. This is a reflective and often introverted meditation. We do not know what it was a ‘souvenir’ of, but it is certainly an attractive and thoughtful piece. The final Gypsy Dance is a tour-de-force, which seems to nod more to a theatrical presentation of what imagined life was like in a Romany community, rather than any genuine quotation of folk tunes or pastiche. Nonetheless, like the rest of the piece it is thoroughly enjoyable.

The work was composed in 1889 and dedicated “For my friend Frederic Griffith.” Frederic Griffith (1867-1917) at that time was Principal flute in the Royal Italian Opera, Covent Garden.

The entire suite can currently be heard on YouTube (just search under title and for separate movements). It is splendidly played by Kenneth Smith, flute and Paul Rhodes, piano.

Saturday 11 March 2023

One Hundred Years of British Song Vol.3

The SOMM website announces that this is the third and final volume of One Hundred Years of British Song. This edition concentrates on works written after 1950. 

The recital begins with Peter Dickinson’s Let the florid music praise. He wrote this dramatic setting of W.H. Auden’s poem in 1960 whilst living and working in New York. It was premiered by Roger Norrington, tenor (now much better known as a conductor) and Dickinson on the piano. Many listeners will recall that this poem was used by Benjamin Britten as the opening number of his song-cycle, On this Island, dating from 1937. Britten provided sweeping piano arpeggios and a style of vocal delivery that seems to echo a Baroque instrumental solo. Dickinson on the other hand, opens with slow, measured chords, gradually building up to a powerful, sustained climax. The poem deals with two aspects of love: the public admiration of beauty in the first verse and a more intimate meditation on the subject in the second.

The Four W.H. Auden Songs date from 1956. Peter Dickinson explained that he completed them as an undergraduate at Queen’s College Cambridge. His webpage explains that they were given a private performance in the presence of the poet, who was visiting the University. After the recital Auden inscribed Dickinson’s copy of his poems: “To Peter Dickinson with many thanks for his nice settings and best wishes from Wystan Auden.””

The opening poem, Look, stranger on this island now, is a splendid seascape replete with cliffs, gulls and ships. Dickinson’s response is a balance between surging sea music (Peter Grimes?) and quiet reflection. Eyes look into the well is a deeply troubling song, that majors on a woman raped and murdered by a soldier. As the subject demands, this is slow, sad, justifiably angry and often intense. The composer has suggested that Carry her over the water is “a facetious comment on conventional marriage, where everything is singing agreeably of love – the white doves and the winds; the fish and a frog; and even the horses drawing the carriage.” This humour carries over into the music, with both the poet’s and the composer’s tongues firmly in their cheeks. The final number, What’s in your mind? is full of delicious sexual inuendo, which is perfectly mirrored by the vocal line and piano accompaniment. Stylistically, these songs owe more to Lennox Berkley than Benjamin Britten. They take a distinguished place in the development of English vocal music and would make a valuable addition to any singer’s repertoire.

John Betjeman has long been one of my favourite authors and poets. Many people of my generation will recall his fascinating films about architecture and railways.

Madeleine Dring composed her Five Betjeman Songs in 1976 and they were first performed by Robert Tear two years later. David Patrick Stearns (The Gramophone, April 2022, p.75) has made a pertinent observation: he suggests that Dring “fools you into thinking the impressionistic [opening number] A Bay in Anglesey sets the tone for the rest of the cycle.” It would be a wrong assumption. Various emotions and their resulting musical aesthetics are explored in the following four songs. There is an appropriate bluesy feel to Song of a Nightclub Proprietress which adds to the pathos of the final lines “What on earth was all the fun for?/I am ill and old and terrified and tight.” Dring creates a little bit of onomatopoeia in Business Girls opens with gentle semiquavers evoking “Autumn winds blowing down/On a thousand business women.” Its pace reflects the “morning routine of shopgirls” getting ready for work. This is a charming melodic song that perfectly complements this clever study of time and place. Undenominational is robust, with dramatic leaps in the vocal part. It describes a “man of God” who is outside the mainstream churches. Upper Lambourne imagines horse racing from the perspective of a long dead trainer. It is lyrical, with lovely easy-going piano accompaniment.

I did not find Nathan Williamson’s The Little That Was Once a Man (2016, rev.2019) with its complex and sometimes unsettling imagery in the least bit enjoyable or even interesting. They set texts by Bryan Heiser, onetime special advisor to Transport for London and campaigner for disability rights. In retirement he began to write poetry. The sentiments of the poems are compounded by unorthodox vocal gymnastics which, are occasionally effective. It is not something I need to hear again.

The problem with John Woolrich’s song-cycle The Unlit Suburbs (1998) is that it is too brief. All three songs are over in under three minutes. The poems were penned especially for Woolrich by Irish poet, Matthew Sweeney. The liner notes explain that “Sweeney’s poetry often sits on the cusp of reality, employing flights of imagination which reflect and refract the everyday and commonplace all the more potently – what he called “alternative realism.”” Certainly, the sentiments proposed in these three poems are surrealistic. The Submerged Bar still sells beer at 1960s prices and the music has not been changed on the jukebox for years. Sounds like paradise. Rat Town is clearly a gritty dead end place, where only the most dissipated would wish to visit. And finally, The Ghost Choir is dark and “gothic” in its impact. Completely approachable, these gnomic songs are delightfully disquieting in their imagery.

I am not sure why Nathan Williamson’s solo piano piece Intermezzo (2012) is featured on this disc of vocal music. It was written to celebrate the 90th birthday of a friend, amateur organist, and pianist. The composer explains that it is based on a “popular Welsh hymn” but does not state which one. Furthermore, it also nods towards the late piano works of Schubert and Brahms. Williamson describes it as being “reflective, simple and whimsical” in tone. I cannot agree with the last adjective. Overall, this is introspective music from end to end.

The Eye of the Blackbird had its genesis in a 60-minute oratorio completed in 1991. This was composed at a time of sadness for Geoffrey Poole. He himself regarded it as “a mid-life account of death, the meaning of life, universe and everything.” The original libretto was a concatenation of texts from many sources. One of the writings used was American poet Wallace Stevens’s Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird. In this poem Stevens tries to describe relationships between “humankind, nature and emotions.” The poem by definition is subjective: Stevens is not being proscriptive in his analysis. The booklet suggests that this song cycle was completed some 15 years after the oratorio, however, it was not published until 2020.

Geoffrey Poole covers a wide range of styles in the nine sections of the poem he chose to set. The liner notes adduce “total chromaticism,” “free tonality of late Romanticism,” and a “Baroque parody.” The general impression is gained of an improvisatory feel to virtually all these songs.

I think the listener will have to make several attempts to get to grips with this work. Despite the sheer beauty of much of the musical progress, its aphoristic nature makes it quite difficult to get an overall impression of the cycle.

The liner notes, compiled by Nathan Williamson are helpful in every way. They offer commentary on the music as well as contextualisation within each composer’s achievement. I would have appreciated dates in the track listing for each work. On several occasions, this information is not included at all. It is important. Resumés of the artists and the texts of all the songs are printed. I did notice that in the track listing, Peter Dickinson is shown as having been born in 1905!

James Gilchrist’s singing is exemplary, and the piano accompaniment, played by Nathan Williamson is always complimentary to the singing. It is enhanced by a vibrant recording, typical of SOMM. It is sad that this is the last CD in this fascinating project.

Track Listing
One Hundred Years of British Song Vol.3

James Gilchrist (tenor), Nathan Williamson (piano)
rec. 25-27 October 2020, The Menuhin Hall, Stoke d'Abernon, Surrey
Peter Dickinson (b.1934)
Let the florid music praise (1960)
Four W.H. Auden Songs (1956)
1. Look, Stranger
2. Eyes look into the well
3. Carry her over the water
4. What's in your mind?
Madeleine Dring (1923-77)
Five Betjeman Songs (1976):
1. A Bay in Anglesey
2. Song of a Nightclub Proprietress
3. Business Girls
4. Undenominational
5. Upper Lambourne
Nathan Williamson (b.1978)
The Little That Was Once a Man (2016/2019):
1. In someone else's poem
2.4 a.m.
3. Not being… (I) The ordinary way
4. Not being… (II) Misunderstanding
5. Moon at rest
John Woolrich (b.1954)
The Unlit Suburbs (1998)
1. The Submerged Bar
2. Rat Town
3. The Ghost Choir
Nathan Williamson
Intermezzo (2012)
Geoffrey Poole (b.1949)
The Eye of the Blackbird (pub.2020):
1. Twenty snowy mountains
2. The Autumn wind
3. I Was of three minds
4. Which to prefer
5. Icicles
6. I know noble accents
7. Out of Sight
8. He rode over Connecticut
9. Evening all afternoon

Wednesday 8 March 2023

Thomas Dunhill: Donald Brook’s Pen-Portrait from 'Composer's Gallery' Part II

The continuation of Donald Brook's pen portrait of Thomas Dunhill published in his book Composers Gallery. 

During the past twenty years Dunhill produced a truly remarkable range of compositions, although chamber music and various important works for orchestra claimed most of his attention. Noteworthy are his Elegiac Variations on an Original Theme, written in memory of Sir Hubert Parry, for whom he had so deep an affection, and first performed at the Gloucester Festival in 1922; and his Symphony in A minor, which was first performed in the Opera House at Belgrade on December 28th, 1922. Dunhill was visiting the city in the course of a continental tour, and never forgot the thrill of conducting the orchestra of the Royal Guard before such an appreciative audience. It was afterwards performed twice at Bournemouth, and once at Guildford, but up to the time of writing, only one movement of it has been played in London.

His one-act opera The Enchanted Garden made a very favourable impression upon the Carnegie Trustees, and as a result it was published by the Trust in 1925.

Dunhill’s songs are perfect specimens of fine craftsmanship. One of the loveliest he ever wrote is called Beauty and Beauty, which, he told me, was written for John Coates, [1] and sung by him at one of his Chelsea recitals. Strangely enough, very few other singers took it up, yet Dunhill always considered it to be one of his best songs. There must be few pianists who have not at least one or two of Dunhill's compositions for their instrument. Of these, mention might be made of his Concert Study and Lunar Rainbow.

It would be impossible in the short space I have available to do justice to his chamber music. This includes two quintets, two quartets, two trios, and two sonatas for violin and piano, the second of which is one of the finest compositions that ever came from his pen. His Phantasy Trio for violin, viola and pianoforte is in one movement; a most satisfying little work that should be heard more often than it is to-day. Equally fine is his Second Sonata, with its grand slow movement which we occasionally hear played separately.

Dunhill was over fifty when his interest in the theatre suddenly induced him to collaborate with A. P. Herbert [2] in the writing of that very amusing comic opera Tantivy Towers. That he should undertake the task of writing the music for such a production caused the arching of hundreds of musical eyebrows in London alone: was Dunhill going to achieve the resounding success that Humperdinck had enjoyed with Hansel and Gretel? [3] Tantivy Towers was first produced [4] at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, and was such a tremendous success that it was transferred to the West End. It ran for six months, and then went on a most successful tour of the provinces, enabling Trefor Jones [5] to make a name for himself.

It has since been staged in America and Australia. Another light opera by Dunhill, Happy Families, was performed with considerable success in Guildford in 1933 and again in 1934. Then he wrote two ballets, Dick Whittington, and Gallimaufry. The latter, adapted from a story by Hans Anderson was given a really lovely performance in Hamburg in 1937, but strange to relate, it has never been performed in Britain! Gallimaufry, by the way, is an old English word meaning "medley.”

One of Dunhill’s last works was the light opera Something in the City, which was to have been produced in the autumn of 1939, but had to be postponed on account of the war.

During the recent war the shortage of teaching staff induced him to return to his first musical appointment at Eton, but his work was shared by his second wife, Isabella (Belle) Featonby, whom he married in 1942.

Some mention should be made here of Dunhill’s literary work. His Chamber Music (1913) is still one of the most authoritative textbooks on the musician's bookshelf, and Sir Edward Elgar (1938) is an excellent biographical study.

Dunhill believed that as far as music was concerned, the signs of the times were hopeful, though there was plenty of modern music that he disliked. He felt that music was too much a matter of fashion in modern times, and thought it was a pity when composers who were not really in the fashion of the hour tried to keep up-to-date. Dunhill always tried to be himself in his music, and never attempted to imitate anybody else, however fashionable and successful they might have been. He believed in the evolution of music rather than revolution, and thought that all art should be founded upon what had gone before it. There were signs, he said, that people were going back to simplicity of thought, and there might well be a reaction to the restlessness of modern music.

Music, he believed, should provide an escape or relief from present-day restlessness. He had no desire to express anything in music than that which was beautiful and which would lift people out of their troubles. He was a little sceptical of the work of those ardent people who based everything upon folksong, because of the tendency towards national introspection. "All the greatest music is international" he used to say, “... music should be universal . . . Purcell learnt from France and Italy, Verdi from Wagner, Elgar from Strauss, and therefore we must be prepared to work upon other foundations than our own folksong.”

Dunhill believed that as a nation we were not likely to achieve much in grand opera, because with a few exceptions, English grand opera had never been a success. [6] Our national form of opera, he thought, was comic opera, and he always advocated the establishment of a theatre to develop this, using the works of Gilbert and Sullivan as a backbone. He was convinced that if this project were handled properly, it would be possible to build up a large public for something on the lines of the Opéra Comique in Paris.

Donald Brook, 'Composer's Gallery: Biographical Sketches of Contemporary Composers, (London, Rockliff, 1946, p.57-60)

[1] John Coates (1865-1941) was an English tenor, who sang in opera and oratorio and on the recital. He had a wide range of repertoire from Bach to contemporary as well as being a committed Wagnerian.

[2] A. P. Herbert, (1890-1971), was an English humourist, novelist, playwright, law reformist, and in 1935–1950 an independent Member of Parliament for Oxford University. (Wikipedia)

[3] Engelbert Humperdinck composed Hansel and Gretel during 1891 and 1892. It premiered in (1854-1921) the Hoftheater in Weimar on 23 December 1893, conducted by Richard Strauss. It was once a favourite at Christmastime.

[4] Thomas Dunhill’s Tantivy Towers was first heard on 16 January 1931 at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith.

[5] Trefor Jones (1902-65) was a Welsh born actor and tenor.

[6] Clearly, Brook did not yet realise the impact that Benjamin Britten and to a slightly lesser extent, Michael Tippet would have in British opera.

Sunday 5 March 2023

Thomas Dunhill: Donald Brook’s Pen-Portrait from 'Composer's Gallery' Part I

Donald Brook wrote a series of books presenting attractive short studies or pen-portraits of a wide variety of musicians and authors. Clearly, he had met these people and had a chance to speak to them about their achievements and interests. Sir Granville Bantock endorsed Composer’ Gallery by insisting that it ‘will be welcomed by music lovers and the larger public throughout the civilised world.’

Thomas Dunhill died on 13 March 1946, around the time Brook’s book was published. I include a few footnotes to Brook’s pen-portrait of Thomas Dunhill.

ANOTHER Londoner was Thomas F. Dunhill, born in 1877. He was a versatile composer who wrote excellent chamber music, works for orchestra, piano, solo instruments, solo voices, and chorus. His earliest musical recollections were connected with the visits of a piano tuner who always completed his task by playing the march from Handel's Scipio with a grand air of accomplishment. As a child of three or four, Dunhill thought this was the most wonderful piece of music in the world and could not have been more than five when he secured an easy arrangement of it and triumphantly played it to his parents. Even in later life this march thrilled him: he believed that the opening progression of three chords was one of the grandest, purest and most dignified musical progressions in existence.

It was at about this time that he was taken for a holiday to Llandudno and heard in the Pier Pavilion [1] an orchestra for the first time. It was conducted by the musically notorious old Jules Riviere, [2] who would sit at a heavily gilded desk facing the audience nonchalantly waving an elaborate, tasselled baton of which his players took not the slightest notice.

Dunhill’s life-long interest in the theatre began when he was quite a boy: he had a toy theatre of his own and would spend hours composing music for it. During his school days at Hampstead most of his leisure was spent in writing short operas - he was stimulated by the productions of Gilbert and Sullivan and his friends were continually being called in to take part in these amateur efforts. Consequently, by the time he reached the age of sixteen, he had written about a dozen little operettas. His theatrical interests in those days were exclusively in comic opera.

Most of his pocket money went in visits to the Saturday "Pops" at the St. James's Hall, [3] or to performances of Gilbert and Sullivan. He entered the Royal College of Music in 1893 and studied there for seven years, first as a student and then as the holder of an open scholarship. Under Sir Charles Stanford for composition, and Franklin Taylor [4] for the pianoforte, Dunhill speedily came to the front and took a leading part in the various musical activities of the College.

At the beginning of the present century, he secured an appointment as assistant music master at Eton College, and five years later returned to the Royal College of Music as a professor. In 1907 he founded the “Dunhill Chamber Concerts” [5] with the object of producing new works by British composers and giving second performances of meritorious compositions already heard elsewhere but neglected as so many were and still are after one performance. Despite financial difficulties, the concerts ran for several years and were a great artistic success.

In those days Dunhill was frequently abroad as an examiner for the Associated Board. He went round the world for them in 1906 and again in 1908, which meant resigning his post at Eton, and in 1912 he toured Canada. In 1914 he married Miss Mary Arnold, a great-granddaughter of the eminent Dr Arnold of Rugby, and grand-niece of Matthew Arnold, the poet.

When the Great War was declared, Dunhill joined the army, and eventually found his way into the Irish Guards. He had the good fortune to be kept in England throughout the war, and to secure an early release after the armistice.

Donald Brook, Composer's Gallery: Biographical Sketches of Contemporary Composers, (London, Rockliff, 1946, p.57-60)

To be continued…


[1] Llandudno Pier Pavilion was opened in 1886. Originally used for orchestral concerts it featured guest conductors such as Malcolm Sargent and Adrian Boult and the regular local musician John Morava. Moving towards variety entertainment in the 1930s, it presented many famous names including George Formby, Cliff Richard and Arthur Askey. It was also used for political rallies, with appearances by Ramsey MacDonald, Oswald Mosley, Clement Atlee and Winston Churchill. The building was demolished after a fire in 1994. The Pavillion remains derelict, however in 2021, the owners of Llandudno Pier bought the site, with the prospect of redeveloping it.          

[2] Jules Riviere (1819-1900) was a well-known, if somewhat eccentric, musical conductor and composer. Over a long career, he enjoyed success at Covent Garden, the Cremorne Gardens, Chelsea, the Adelphi and the Alhambra theatres, London, then afterwards at Manchester, Blackpool, Llandudno, and Colwyn Bay.

[3] The St James’s Hall, in Regent Street, was an important venue in London, between 1858 and 1905. Popular concerts were the Monday ‘Pops’ (1859-98)  and the Saturday ‘Pops’ (1865-98), both for chamber music. It was later used for Philharmonic Society Concerts. Other entertainments featured at the Hall included readings by Charles Dickens and also the Christy’s Minstrels. St James’s Hall continued in use until February 1905, after which it was demolished. It was succeeded by the Queen’s Hall and the Wigmore Hall as major concert venues.  

[4] Franklin Taylor was a popular pianist and teacher in London, who had studied at the Leipzig Conservatoire with Louis Plaidy and Ignaz Moscheles between 1859 and 1861. In 1863, he travelled to Paris where he took lessons with Clara Schumann for a short while. He was an enthusiastic supporter of her playing and later on probably also met up with her in London during her numerous stays. Taylor was head teacher of piano at the Royal College of Music in London, newly founded in 1882. He also worked as a publicist and wrote many articles for Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians, including an article on Clara Schumann's piano playing and her compositions . (With thanks to the Schumann Portal)

[5] In 1907, Dunhill founded the ‘Concerts of British Chamber Music’ which were to hold an important place in London musical life. They continued until 1919.

Thursday 2 March 2023

The Whistling Book: English Music for Recorder and Piano

I think that this CD will be of more interest to performers rather than listeners. Let me explain. The ethos behind this double album, featuring some 18 pieces by 16 composers is a “tidying up” exercise. The advertising blurb clarifies that most of the works featured here are included in the Manchester music shop/publisher Forsyth Brother Ltd.’s catalogue of recorder and piano sheet music. Some seem to be more appropriate for teaching purposes, or for younger players beginning to build a repertoire. Most will be unfamiliar territory to many listeners, and perhaps even to recorderists as well. Stylistically, they range from the naïve to the pretentiously avant-garde, with most fitting into the tonal, approachable, fun and enjoyable category. So, I think that its greatest use will be as a thesaurus for instrumentalists seeking to extend and enhance their repertoire. 

Many of the works are dated between 1968 and 1998, except for the two valuable pieces by Alan Rawsthorne and Walter Leigh, extending the range back to the 1930s and 1940s.

One should add that the album was originally released in 1998, as John and Peter’s Whistling Book. This new edition includes three added items, namely Robin Walker’s Her Rapture for solo recorder, John Addison’s Spring Dances for solo descant recorder and finally the eccentric Kokopelli by Richard Whalley.

This smorgasbord of recorder and piano music gets off to a brilliant start with Geoffrey Poole’s varied Skally Skarekrow's Whistling Book (c.1978). These four short movements were originally devised for the composer’s son, James, however the final movement, Hailstones, has been souped up to reflect John Turner’s virtuosity. The other movements suggest drifting Clouds (with silver linings), Spring Breezes and Sunshine.

The Tempest has always been one of my favourite Shakespeare plays. Michael Ball has majored on Prospero’s Music (1984) in this ten minute offering. It captures the image of Caliban’s contention that the island is “full of noises and sweet airs, that delight and hurt not…” This is enchanting music that explores various aspects of the play, including the love of Ferdinand and Miranda and, more seriously, Ariel’s taunting of Caliban. The liner notes explain that the original inspiration was hearing the ringing of a mist-shrouded sea-buoy whilst Ball was on holiday on the Scilly Isles.

Turning to Alan Bullard’s Recipes (1989) I cannot write better than Rob Barnett did in his 1999 review of the first release of this CD: “These are high quality musical postcards: Continental serenade, hurdy-gurdy sentimentality, purring and bubbling jazziness, a Carmen fantasy, Chinoiserie with a dash of the puys of the Auvergne and a final knotted hanky knees-up.” The movement titles that provoked this marvellous prose are Coffee and Croissants, Barbecue Blues (when the fire goes out), Prawn Paella, Special Chop-Suey, and Fish and Chips. This articulate suite would make an entertaining offering at any recital.

 Alan Rasthorne’s little Suite was first performed by Arnold Dolmetsch on 17 July 1939 at a meeting of the London Contemporary Music Society. Seemingly, Rawsthorne withdrew it after the concert, though it was later arranged for viola d’amore and piano. The four movements include a short, deeply felt Sarabande, a lively Fantasia on an old English country dance, a sad Air and a sprightly Jig. The score was presumed lost but turned up in 1992. It did not deserve to be forgotten.

Nicholas Marshall’s short Caprice (undated) is a spry little number that fairly bounces along, while Douglas Steele’s Song (also undated) for recorder is touching with its long breathed melody. It is quite charming.

A big discovery is John Addison’s Spring Dances. These were written for John Turner in 1994, following a visit to the composer’s residence in Old Bennington, Vermont. The three dances, for solo recorder, explore a variety of moods: a cosy Allegretto, an expressive Andante con moto and a vivacious Allegro moderato, the progress of which covers a wide variety of time signatures. John Addison was born in 1920, not 1929, as stated in the booklet.

Robin Walker’s A Book of Song and Dance was completed in 1994. Eleven short sections make up this album of folk-like tunes. On occasion, there is barely time to get to know the melody. For example, Dance 1 is only 20 seconds long. Nods to well-known tunes include My Luve is like a Red Rose, Shenandoah and Clark Saunders. Four of them are for recorder alone: the others have piano accompaniment. Although these are discrete pieces, somehow, they seem to make a valid and consistent whole. I would suggest that they always be played through in the order presented in the score.

Her Rapture was written as recently as 2021, in memory of Robin Walker’s teacher, the composer Dorothy Pilling, who died in 1998. It is not a piece I warm to; the tessitura of the descant recorder is just a little too high and piercing in its imitation of our feathered friends.

I understand that Walter Leigh’s Air (1942) was his very last composition, before he was killed in action near Tobruk, Libya. This miniature is quite lovely in its apparent simplicity. Yet, there are deeper moments and more intricate harmonies to add to its success. It is good that it has been recorded here for posterity. Equally satisfying is Arnold Cooke’s Capriccio. It dates from 1985 and celebrates William Alwyn’s eightieth birthday.

I am not convinced by Anthony Gilbert’s Farings (1986?). The opening number, Mr Pitfield’s Pibroch, is a wild screechy piece. Equally headache-making is Eighty for Willam Alwyn with its clattering high notes on the piano. Five more movements follow including the Arbor Avium Canentium with its birdsong, the jig-like Batterfeet, dedicated to the composer Howard Ferguson and a take on plainsong in Chant-au-Clair. Other musicians referred to include John Turner (Slow Down after Fifty), Ida Carroll (Miss Carroll, her Lullabye) which would wake the dead, and composer Ian Parrott MidWales (Lightwhistle Automatic) with its repetitive (never ending!) melody. Perhaps it is the small recorder used that makes this listener reach for the paracetamol. I cannot resist the temptation to quote Rob Barnett’s review once more: “This is a much harder work with stop-start, strangulation occasional, Shostakovich-like intensity, flitters and shards of music, sparks and shrapnel…”

It is appropriate that one of John Turner’s compositions is included in this album. Four Diversions date from 1968/9 and, as the liner note state, have become one of the best known works in the recorder repertoire. The four movements are written in what would then have been an approachable contemporary style. The Intrada is bold in effect. This is followed by a vibrant, but too short, Waltz. The third Diversion, Aubade, has a touch of the Celt in it: it is followed by a dashing Hornpipe, once again looking north of the Border. The Four Diversions is deservedly popular.

Shadows in Blue, op.61 (1998) by David Ellis uses a variety of recorders to achieve its impact – sopranino, bass and tenor instruments along with the piano. Does this work nod more to Schoenberg than to jazz? There are some lovely sounds here, that would certainly enhance a smoke filled bar in downtown New York.

John Gollard’s Divertissement, op.52 (1988) is a satisfying backward glance to the baroque era with its modern take on an Entrée, a Gavotte, an Air and a Gigue. Equally rewarding, is his pastiche New World Dances op.62 (1980) which give a decent account of Ragtime, Blues and the Bossa Nova.

Richard Whalley’s Kokopelli (2013) is gruelling. It may represent a native American fertility rite, but it just does nothing for me, prepared piano and all.

Finally, the last track is dreadful. Kevin Malone’s Saturday Soundtrack (1998) is meant to evoke “background music” to an imaginary cartoon. Its concatenation of vocalised coughs, splutters, mutters, monkey chants and growls are a pathetic attempt at being relevant. Fortunately it only lasts for just over two minutes.

The liner notes, compiled by John Turner are most helpful. They include information about the composers and brief, but helpful, notes about all the works. These details could well be mined by performers for their programme notes (with permission, of course). Unfortunately, some of the dates of composition/premieres have been omitted from the text, and the track listings. Resumés of the instrumentalists have been included.

Both the performance and the recording of this music is beyond reproach. John Turner and Peter Lawson make a hugely talented team.

I enjoyed most of the works on this double CD. That said, I think that this repertoire should be investigated slowly. Two hours of unremitting recorder/piano sound could be an endurance test for some folk. And it would be a pity to miss some of the gems presented here. The music ranges from grade pieces for tyros to major recital works. Any one (nearly) of them would enhance a recorderist’s concert.

Track Listing:
Geoffrey Poole (b.1949)

Skally Skarekrow's Whistling Book – 1. Clouds (with Silver Linings), 2. Spring Breezes, 3. Sunshine, 4. Hailstones (c.1978)
Michael Ball (b.1946)
Prospero's Music (1984)
Alan Bullard (b.1947)
Recipes: 1. Coffee and Croissants, 2. Barbecue Blues, 3. Prawn Paella 4. Special Chop-suey, 5. Fish and Chips (1989)
Alan Rawsthorne (1905-1971)
Suite: 1. Sarabande, 2. Fantasia, 3. Air, 4. Jig (1939)
Nicholas Marshall (b.1942):
Caprice (?)
Douglas Steele (1910-1999)
Song (?)
John Addison (1920-1998)
Spring Dances: 1. Allegretto, 2. Andante con moto, 3. Allegro moderato (1994)
Robin Walker (b.1953)
A Book of Song and Dance: 1. Song 1, 2. My Luve, 3. Idyll, 4. Song 2, 5. Rite, 6. Dance 1, 7. Canon, 8. Shenandoah, 9. Dance 2, 10. Clark Sanders, 11. Tired Boy (1994)
Her Rapture (2021)
Walter Leigh (1905-1942)
Air (1942)
Arnold Cooke (1906-2005)
Capriccio (1985)
Anthony Gilbert (b.1934)
Farings: 1. Mr. Pitfield's Pibroch, 2. Eighty for William Alwyn, 3. Arbor Avium Canentium, 4. Batterfeet, 5. Slow Down after Fifty, 6. Miss Carroll Her Lullabye, 7. MidWales Lightwhistle Automatic, 8. Chant-au-Clair (1986?)
John Turner (b.1943)
Four Diversions: 1. Intrada, 2. Waltz, 3. Aubade, 4. Hornpipe (1968/69)
David Ellis (b.1933)
Shadows in Blue, op. 61 (1998)
John Golland (1942-1993)
Divertissement, op. 52: 1. Entrée, 2. Gavotte, 3. Air, 4. Gigue (1988)
New World Dances, op. 62: 1. Ragtime, 2. Blues, 3. Bossa Nova (1980)
Richard Whalley (b.1974)
Kokopelli (2013)
Kevin Malone (b.1958)
Saturday Soundtrack (1998)
John Turner (recorder), Peter Lawson (piano). Richard Whalley (prepared piano)
rec. 1988, 2017, 2021
DIVINE ART dda21241