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Horn Concerto; Piccolo Concerto; Bassoon Concerto; Brass Quintet
Peter Amon (Horn), Lucien Gruion (Piccolo), John Juritz (Harpsichord); Bodo Koeningsbeck (Bassoon). Claremont Chamber Orch/I Musicanti/Allan Stephenson The Cape Town SO Brass Quintet
Claremont GSE 1520
See following note re availability.

These four works, written between 1979 and 1990, are all eloquent examples of Allan Stephenson's craftsmanship and gift for good tunes. They also bear witness to his friendship with colleagues in the Cape Town Symphony Orchestra and to his ability to capture the soul of an instrument.

The three concertos on this disc share superficial similarities: outer movements which are lively, syncopated and purposeful, and slow movements which give free rein to a gift for lyrical songfulness. And if you don t believe that a piccolo can sing, try the quite exceptionally beautiful central movement of the Piccolo Concerto.

The Horn Concerto is the shortest of Mr Stephenson's concertos. The brevity must be a relief to the soloist; this composer believes in working his soloists hard, to our enjoyment. The insert note refers to Walton in connection with this concerto, and there is certainly a swagger to the outer movements which carries a Waltonian élan, though Allan Stephenson is always his own man. The slow movement is a noble sarabande.

The Piccolo Concerto is the oldest of these pieces (and the oldest recording; it was once available on vinyl, and a rare early-morning broadcast of it by the BBC was my introduction to the composer). Its songful heart is set off by a first movement notable for vigour and irregular phrase-lengths, and a finale based on what the composer calls a "somewhat trite march tune" which must make all but the most stony-faced break into a grin.

The Bassoon Concerto also has a long, heartfelt song at its centre. This slow movement is almost as long as the two others together; but it is not a note too long at that. It would be the perfect piece to convert anyone who believes that the bassoon is no more than a musical clown. The clowning is reserved for the hilarious short finale. The first movement is a piece to test the player's technique to the utmost but without ever becoming empty display. This music has substance, and it stands up to the most concentrated listening.

The Brass Quintet sounds what it is - the music of five friends getting together to have a good time. In its three short movements the composer pays tribute to the four Americans and one Englishman of the line-up by, as he says: "recalling memories of both the British Brass Brand and Scott Joplin rags".

All performances on the disc sound excellent, as one would expect with the composer on the podium for the concertos, and with all the music being played by the dedicatees for whom it was written. The Claremont Chamber Orchestra is obviously well used to their conductor; their supple phrasing gives constant pleasure. Recording dates and venues vary; and the recorded sound varies with each piece. That of the Piccolo Concerto is sounding its age, and it has brought with it in its transfer from LP a rather jolting tape edit at the end of the first-movement cadenza. The CTSO Brass Quintet has been faithfully captured in an immediate acoustic which had them sitting and making their cheerful music right within my fireside circle. The ambience of Cape Town City Hall (Horn Concerto) seems to take a little more kindly to recording than does the Church of St. Michael and All Saints (Piccolo and Bassoon Concertos).

If you have already encountered Allan Stephenson's work, be assured that this disc will not disappoint you. If you haven t, and you are not averse from "unashamedly listener-friendly" music, then don't hesitate to get to know some of it now - particularly at Claremont's very reasonable prices.


R James Tayler


Apart from the above CDs, Stephenson's music also appears on
GSE 1504 Clarinet Concerto (John Simon - Threnody for clarinet & orchestra Priaulx Rainier - Suite for clarinet & piano);
GSE 1556 Concerto for trombone & strings (with John Simon (Zimbabwe) - Violin Concerto/Arnold van Wyk - Saudade for violin & orchestra Saint-Saens).

Other CDs include 1509 Van Wyk - Symphonies 1 2/Primavera; 1525 Van Wyk - 5 Elegies, String Quartet/Duo Concertante for viola & piano; 1538 Hubert du Plessis - Malay Scenes/Symphony; 1546 Stefans Grove - Afrika Hymnus/Songs & Dances from Africa and Nonyana for piano/Viola Sonata; 1526 Thomas Rajna - Piano Concerto No.2/Harp Concerto; 1565 Du Plessis & Grove - String Quartets and many other issues plus their historical series of great artists and performances; of more classical repertoire.

Any of these may be ordered through the Hon. Treasurer of the British Music Society at

S C, TROWELL, 7 Tudor Gardens UPMINSTER, ESSEX RM14 3DE, 01708 224795 at a special airmail inclusive price of £11 per CD. Goods will be despatched direct from South Africa and BMS members are responsible for paying any import duty etc. due on receipt (often not collected). Complete catalogue available from the Hon Treasurer who will try to answer any questions.


R James Tayler

Reviews from previous months

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