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Richard Stoker

Complete Guitar Music
Martin Vishnick
- guitar
London Guitar Duo


Vocal Music & Piano Duos
Jacqueline Fox -mezzo soprano
Margaret Feaviour - soprano
Richard Stoker
- piano
The Davies Piano Duo

Vocal Music, Duos, Folk Song arrangements, Realisations
Jacqueline Fox
Margaret Feaviour
Richard Stoker
ASC Records

A comparatively recent Priory recording of the piano music of the 62-year-old Richard Stoker  review is now followed by three collections (four discs in fact) of his extensive corpus of guitar, piano duet, and vocal music.

A disc devoted entirely to guitar music, and that of a Boulanger-inspired cast, can be difficult to take all in one go. But there are delightful moments, heralded by the opening simple lullaby-like Pastoral, and the quasi-mediaevalism of the Suite of Dances Serious listening to the extensive Diversions on a theme of Theodorakis, the theme only given fully harmonised in the final movement (here recalling the spare delicately beautiful harmonies of Mompou) is best taken in isolation. The recording here is rather too dense to evoke the cerulean blue of the Aegean.

Apart from a Suite of short pieces written for the guitarist Polita Estrellas, and a guitar version of the Zodiac Variations (piano) there are three larger-scale compositions - a solo Sonatina, a broadly conceived Sonata Duo (whose scheme involves a 12 note set, divided 7 and 5 between first and second movements, uniting all 12 in the final Jig/Fugue) and a less immediately approachable Concerto in which the two guitars are backed by pre-recorded tape sounds - a work difficult to assimilate at first hearing.

The remaining discs are devoted to a variety of vocal music and piano duets where the spikey points of sound (his own words in one of his poems) give way to 'legato lines of smooth melody'. The four settings of Shakespeare are accompanied by curiously lute-like chordal piano writing, with the piano on this disc sounding a little muffled. These settings, and those of his opus 25, 'Music that brings sweet sleep' are easy to follow and are beautifully sung by both soloists. Interspersed with the vocal items, the Davies Piano Duo are at their best in the somewhat Gallic Quatre Morceaux opus 77, of which the very lovely 'Romance' reawakens the lush sound of his earlier little Jazz Preludes (on the Priory Disc) exposing in Slater a vein of unalloyed sentimentality. The most important work on this disc is surely the Diversions on a 12 note theme, the opening piano phrase from the first movement of his teacher, Lennox Berkeley's Oboe Sonatina. Berkeley's influence is apparent in the felicitous counterpoint of the scherzo movement. The remainder of the disc - settings of Yeats and several more experimental works for voice, including a dark-hued but deeply felt Monody on his own poem 'Kristallnacht' - is of much sterner stuff.

The third set, a double CD, is devoted entierly to vocal pieces where, in 'Songs of Love & Loss' (Dekker set at age 13 and DH Lawrence in 1957) the soprano's beautiful singing serves the composer well. The mezzo, Jacqueline Fox, is equally compelling - especially in the strangely tame Folk Song settings - far removed from the lush days of Scott and Quilter - where her fine singing is underpinned by a dull, guitar-like and tentative piano sound. There are several pieces of an operatic nature where the 'legato lines of smooth melody' give way to those 'spikey points of sound' - in the cycle 'Aspects of Flight' and in the duet pieces where the emphasis is on the dramatic element. But in the end the lovely voice of Jacqueline Fox returns in two beautiful and eminently satisfying realisations - of Byrd ('Lullaby my sweet little baby') and Purcell, whose 'When I am laid in earth' makes a fine conclusion. The main impression one gets from these discs is a personality of enormous energy - not unexpected in one who studied also with Harold Truscott. What is astonishing is that he manages to combine the creative activities of composer, pianist, novelist, dramatist, poet and artist - in this latter capacity decorating all the sleeves of these discs with designs which exude the same frantic energy.

Reviews from previous months

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