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Gordon CROSSE (b.1937)
Ariadne - Concertante for solo oboe and twelve players Op. 31 (1972) [23:00]*
Changes - A Nocturnal Cycle in four parts and two interludes for soprano and baritone soloists, mixed chorus and orchestra Op. 17(1966) [53:52]**
* Sarah Francis (oboe)
London Symphony Orchestra ensemble/Michael Lankester
** Jennifer Vyvyan (soprano)
John Shirley-Quirk (baritone)
Orpington Junior Singers
Highgate School for Boys Choir
London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus/Norman Del Mar
rec. 20-21 August 1974, Kingsway Hall, London (Ariadne); 27-30 October 1969, Walthamstow Assembly Hall (Changes). ADD
Originally issued on LP as Ariadne: Argo ZRG-842; Changes: Argo ZRG-656.
LYRITA SRCD.259 [76.52]


 

As a student at the R.A.M. I was almost as ignorant of the music of Gordon Crosse as I was of just about everything else. The works of his which I had heard, mostly through rare BBC broadcasts, I remember as finding highly accessible. Creative output is so often reflected in personality, and while he was less often to be found fraternising in the Academy bar than some, the lessons I had with Gordon Crosse as member of a whole bunch of thickies in the G.R.S.M. course were as interesting and accessible as his music. He must have despaired at our opaque lack of intellectual fitness; but never let on, and always held the respect of the class.

Rob Barnett’s review of this disc covers many of the salient points with regard to the background to these pieces, so I will largely restrict myself to a personal response.

Ariadne, for solo oboe and a colourful ensemble of 12 players makes a grander and more spectacular impression than its title might suggest. The music is intense and never really lets up, maintaining a nervous vibration in even the slower passages: Crosse clearly revels in the athletic manoeuvrability of the relatively compact ensemble. The ‘coarse tone’ section in the second movement is a highly convincing eastern-European/Mediterranean sounding moment, and with eloquent playing from Sarah Francis and the whole ensemble this is a wonderful piece to have lying around in one’s collection.

Peter Dickinson wrote: "In 1966 Crosse conquered the Three Choirs Festival with Changes: a Nocturnal Cycle [Argo LP ZRG 656]. This fastidiously chosen anthology of poems was the basis for a 50-minute choral work extending the Britten tradition in a personal way. Apart from its richly imaginative orchestral textures it shows Crosse as a melodist too. Its neglect by our choral societies is simply incomprehensible." Well, while I might agree wholeheartedly with Dickinson’s sentiment, I can to a certain extent understand why such a demanding work would be a reluctant choice for choral societies. This is one of those pieces which requires strength at all levels, and would always require a considerable investment of time and resources to be given full justice.

Full justice is what it receives on this recording however, and Lyrita has done everyone a large favour by making it available once more. Crosse’s strengths in orchestration are immediately apparent, and in his own note to the work he acknowledges that it is ‘concerned with variety and contrast’, an aspect which is given greatest pungence through the use of the orchestra, which includes a large percussion section and the full works from the other sections. Crosse also admits having to ‘work hard for unity’ in a piece with many short sections, but in the final reckoning this never seems to arise as a problem – in any case, I never had the impression of a composer trying hard, or becoming aware of procedural workings-out. In his own summing up, Crosse in essence shows what our approach to the work should be: ‘…with the aim of communicating enjoyment I tried to enjoy myself. I… concentrated on opening my ears and mind to simple ideas.’

These ‘simple ideas’ do sometimes have the ring of Britten about them. Take the children’s chorus Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, which in which the cadences and melodic shapes of the elder master are unmistakeable. There are occasional tinges of Tippett in the orchestral filigrees which pop through now and again early on, maybe a whiff of Shostakovich in the choir in the Bellman’s Song, that kind of thing: but in essence this is very much a personal odyssey, and in any case such associations are always a response based on personal experience. This is in no way a shopping list of references and influences, and I have certainly come through the listening sessions invigorated and resolved to ‘swim in wine, and turn upon the toe…’ rather than dwell upon ‘The pear doth rot, the plum doth fall, The snow dissolves, and so must all.’

As for the performances, I can single out Jennifer Vyvyan for sheer gorgeousness with those high notes in the Nurse’s Song and beauty of restraint in The Door of Death, and it certainly sounds as if the LSO are playing out of their skins. There is an intense English straightness about some of the diction, and I can imagine the delivery of such lines as ‘Hey nonny no!’ being done a little less in the old BBC received pronunciation these days. That this kind of thing stands out at all only emphasises the international drama and strength of the music as it stands. English it is of course, but, far from advocating some kind of streetwise interpretation; the weight of the music still takes us to places far beyond well modulated tones and Mr. Cholmondeley-Warner. For choral societies looking for an alternative to A Child of Our Time or Noye’s Fludde I would say – go for it!

Dominy Clements

See also review by Rob Barnett

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