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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]

It says much for Lyrita that their presentation both visual and aural encourages exploration. High standards achieved by them in the 1970s and sustained into the 1980s are one of the label’s hallmarks. However one of their fingerprints has been smudged. The label used to be famed for its conservative repertoire at a time when the likes of Bax, Finzi, Bridge and Ireland were desperately out of fashion. With the rebirth of the label earlier this year we are getting an influx of the very dissonant and avant-garde works that were in the ascendancy when the label was fighting its rearguard action with the Bax symphonies, the Finzi songs and the Ireland and Bliss orchestral works. It's not that Lyrita ever completely ignored such works; there were famous LPs of pairs of symphonies by Searle and Still. Later however, in the early 1990s, came the Welsh Arts Council supported works some of which were unafraid of dissonance.

Gordon Crosse is from Bury, Lancashire. In 1962 he studied with Petrassi in Rome. In 1976 he won the Cobbett medal and returned to his new found home in Suffolk to dedicate himself fulltime to composition. His music encompasses many genres. There are four operas and many concert works. In 1990 his work Sea Psalms was premiered by the Scottish National Chorus and Orchestra in Glasgow. A CD of the Cello Concerto, Memories of Morning: Night and Some Marches on a Ground was released on NMC in 1999. Since the late eighties Crosse has moved towards computer technology and away from composition.

Here are two pieces by Gordon Crosse: one to all intents and purposes an oboe concerto; the other a big anthologising choral work for the Three Choirs Festival.

Crosse's Ariadne is for oboe with twelve players. It was premiered at the Cheltenham Festival on 11 July 1972 with Sarah Francis and Contrapuncti conducted by Michael Lankester. It was written as a result of a commission from Michael Johnson, the husband of Sarah Francis. Without being programmatic the work bears the imprint of Crosse's holiday in Crete in 1970 - listen to the Greek ‘ethnic’ sounds at 16:00 - and the Ariadne legend. It is lucidly orchestrated, sometimes dissonant, tensely lyrical and full of dramatic incident. The Greek flavour becomes very assertive towards the end then fades into a taut shimmer through which the wise oboe muses and sings. It is a brother under the skin to Malcolm Arnold's oboe concerto.

Gordon Crosse and the Three Choirs Festival? Oil and water? Yet the 1966 Changes was written for that Festival when the composer was 29. It was written in large part in Birmingham the previous year. It is in two Interludes and four parts each subdivided and here separately tracked - a total of fourteen tracks. Part I is a lengthy bell-influenced piece for choir and a mighty heaving orchestra. It is alive with the volcanic jangle of church bells and the sung words are a tangle of inscriptions from bells. This is followed by the first interlude which opens in brusque ruthlessness and then curves quickly down to a soulful cello. A rather recessed John Shirley-Quirk intones the Sir Thomas Browne words The Night is Come. The drama is in the vivid orchestral interjections. God be in my head is taken by the unison chorus around a figure in staccato which follows the outline of the words. The Children's Chorus sing another anonymous text: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John ... Bless the Bed that I lie on. For me this recalls Mathias's writing for children' choir in This Worldes Joie. Nurse's Song shivers and shimmers amid Penderecki-groaning work in the bass. The words here are sung by Jennifer Vyvyan and are by William Blake.

The Second Interlude is again brief with mournful meditation in the bass section of the strings and punched out protesting brass figures. This contrasts with the calming avian chatter of the woodwind. This ushers in the men's chorus with orchestra for Herrick's Bellman's Song. Poet and composer address darkness and the night, and offer their own intimations of universal mortality. The Round - Hey nonny no! is for women's chorus with orchestra. This is a rowdy episode in rude health with a nose thumbed at death and moves directly into the baritone solo to words by William Davenant, Wake All The Dead. This is a nicely celebratory invocation to clear grave space for the new generations. This spirit once established continues with Like to the Lightning in which soprano solo and children's chorus in awe hymn death; this time secure in the promise of resurrection.

Part IV begins with the raw golden fanfares of Part I. The soprano takes the words The door of death is made of gold (Blake) and at the words 'I give you the end of a golden string ...' makes a predictive link with Ariadne lying six years in the future. A New Year Carol rounds out this major work with a meeting of pagan sun and the worship of God. The chorus and children's choir fanfare the shine of the new year aided by bells and brass. The work strides purposefully forward to the glow of renewal and of the very change referred to in the title.

There were moments in the first section when I wondered if the accent was more a matter of charnel (try Constant Lambert's Summer's Last Will) than new growth. In fact the trajectory is from darkness to light - from unredeemable death to shining light and the green shoots of renewal. This is cleverly and movingly limned by the bell sounds of chaos in Sancte Thomas trounced by the golden bells of rebirth in the slow aureate farewell of a triumphant but not rowdy epilogue.

If you enjoy Mathias's This Worldes Joie and Fricker's Vision of Judgement (awaiting a premiere recording) then have no doubts about Crosse's Changes.

Two minor criticisms. I missed the sort of biographical overview you get with other Lyritas. I also wish that Lyrita would move away from using this olive green text; it’s appalling to read.

A generous CD then ... which both affirms and denies Crosse's reputation as a disciple of the cutting edge avant-garde.

Rob Barnett

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