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James WILSON (b1922)
Orchestral Works.
Menorah (Viola Concerto), Op. 122* [24.54]
, Op. 37 [12.38]
Pearl and Unicorn (Violin Concerto), Op. 20 [26.50]
* Constantin Zanidache (vla)
** Alan Smale (vln)
National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland conducted by Colman Pearce
Recorded, April 1996 in the National Concert hall, Dublin
MARCO POLO 8. 225027 [65.40]
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James Wilson was born in London. After the Second World War he moved to Ireland, where he has lived ever since hence his inclusion in Marco Polo's Irish Composer series. As will be seen from the opus number allotted to Menorah his creative output is large. Unfortunately, the information which accompanies the CD, including notes by Wilson himself (albeit edited by someone else), do not include the dates of composition of the works here recorded.

Menorah is Wilson's response to a visit, which he paid to the memorial, outside Jerusalem, erected to the memory of the children who perished in the Holocaust. It is in three movements, the last of which, marked 'con tenerezza', is apparently based on Brahms' Cradle Song although Brahms' music is not quoted directly. In his notes James Wilson tells us that the first movement is "constructed on a complex mathematical basis". This may be so but I'm afraid that the thematic basis of the movement completely eluded me. In the second movement the soloist is accompanied only by brass and percussion. The full orchestra is restored, albeit with restraint, for the third movement which Wilson describes as "the core of the work". Here the scoring is indeed atmospheric and I found it the most interesting section of the concerto with the references to Brahms discernible, if fleeting.

To judge from their respective opus numbers the other two works on the disc are much earlier compositions. The Concertino is in one continuous movement but is divided into three clearly identifiable sections. The first of these sounds like a dream-like piece of nachtmusik which includes some interesting touches of orchestral colouring. Indeed, I would say that on the evidence of this CD James Wilson is an effective and imaginative orchestrator.

The Pearl and the Unicorn is scored for solo violin and small orchestra. It was written for the present soloist, Alan Smale, who is also the leader of the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland. It is a four-movement work which I'm afraid I found a little arid. Incidentally, there is an editorial slip in the track listing on the jewel case by which the tracks for the last two movements of this work are transposed. The slow movement comes third, not last and is followed by the short, perky finale.

Both of the soloists play well, though neither is given any significant opportunity for lyricism. The orchestra, under Colman Pearce gives attentive support. The recording is cut at a slightly low level but still presents a good sound picture.

Others may respond more readily than I did to the music on this disc. Despite some atmospheric and intriguing scoring I must confess that I was not greatly attracted to James Wilson's music, still less moved by it.

John Quinn

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