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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



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Nicholas MAW (b 1935)
Sinfonia (1966) [30:00]
John ADDISON (1920–1998)
Divertimento for brass quintet, op.9 (1951) [8:17]
John GARDNER (b 1917)
Theme and Variations for brass quartet, op.7 (1951) [9:55]
Stephen DODGSON (b 1924)

Sonata for brass quintet (1963) [10:48]
English Chamber Orchestra/Norman del Mar and the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble (Philip Jones and Elgar Howarth (trumpets), Ifor James (horn), John Iveson (trombone) John Fletcher (tuba))
rec. 12 October 1970, The Maltings, Snape (Maw), 3 December 1974, Decca Studio No.3, London (PJBE) ADD
reissue of Argo ZRG 676 (Maw) and ZRG 813 (PJBE)
LYRITA SRCD 307 [62:56] 

Experience Classicsonline


Much as we must be grateful to Lyrita for making available the British Council sponsored recordings from the Argo catalogue I do occasionally wish that the original couplings had been retained, for, on this disk, the intense seriousness of the Maw Sinfonia sits uncomfortably beside the lighter brass works.

The Sinfonia was Maw’s first major orchestral work after Scenes and Arias, written for the Proms in 1962, and it almost immediately followed the large scale 1st String Quartet – I wonder if Lyrita has any plans to re–issue the Aeolian Quartet recording of that fine piece which it made for Argo (ZRG 565)? Maw has always been a master of the large scale, the most famous example being Odyssey (recorded by the CBSO and Simon Rattlem on CDS 7 54277–2), but the 1st Quartet is a 40 minute one movement structure and this Sinfonia (a title which might imply something small scale) plays for over half an hour. But this is no matter for Maw is a composer who has something to say – indeed, he often has a lot to say – and he has the technical ability to say it and make it interesting and compelling.

Starting with a, somewhat, gloomy duet for clarinets, the first movement grows in concentration and after some quiet ruminations, and some very colourful writing for woodwind and horns, bursts into a fast section, full of scurrying strings, but Maw is nothing if not a lyricist and the horns carry the burden of thematic argument almost throughout this section. This is tense and closely argued music, non–tonal in language, but not atonal, but with a big romantic feel to it – the orchestration, for a small ensemble (positively Mozartean in its compliment of 2 each of flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons and horns, with doublings on piccolo and cor anglais, and strings) is very rich and sumptuous. The middle slow movement, named Threnody, has a march–like feel to it, and it never wavers in its lamentation. Despite a brief solo for violin towards the end there is little respite from the incessant despair, until the finale crashes in and launches into a lop–sided country dance! After a restrained middle section the music gains momentum and rushes to the end with the horns to the fore. It’s a fine achievement and it’s good to welcome such a fine and well wrought work back into the catalogue, especially in such a strong and well thought out and played performance. Where would so much British music of this period have been without the dedicated advocacy of the late Norman del Mar?

The brass works which follow Sinfonia, fine works though they are, are overshadowed by the great strength of Maw’s work. John Addison is best remembered for his many film scores – Pool of London (1950)(a particular favourite of mine), Reach for the Sky (1956) (the biography of Douglas Bader, who was the composer’s brother-in-law), The Charge of the Light Brigade (1968), to name but a few, the title music for the Angela Lansbury sleuthing TV series Murder She Wrote, and the ballet suite Carte Blanche which was a favourite of Beecham (his live performance of 08 November 1959 is available on BBC Legends BBCL 4012-2); Addison’s own recording, with the Pro Arte Orchestra, is available on EMI CDM 7 64718–2. The Divertimento is an early piece and is full of the Music Hall, let’s not forget that he memorably wrote the music for John Osborne’s play The Entertainer. It’s a jolly little piece.

John Gardner’s Theme and Variations, another early work, and was the first 20th century work ever broadcast on the BBC by the PJBE! As with so much of Gardner’s work there’s a strong humorous element – the tango variation, in particular, is an hoot! It’s well laid out for four players (no tuba) and is wonderfully entertaining, though it’s not without its serious side. Recently there have been issues of two of his Symphonies and other orchestral works so, at last, we can start to get to grips with his large output. About time too!

Stephen Dodgson is related to Lewis Carroll, (real name Charles Dodgson), and is his closest living relative to have the surname Dodgson. His Sonata is a short and cogently argued work with serious intent – terse working out of material, two dark slow movements – the first one muted – and a lighter scherzo, third, movement and finale, which balance the serious pieces but keep the nature of the work as a searching exploration of sonority.

These are very fine performances from the PJBE and it’s a timely reminder of the work of three great musicians who are no longer with us – Philip Jones, Ifor James and John Fletcher.

The sound throughout is marvellously clean and clear – what good original material there was to work with! The notes, by Paul Conway, are good and detailed and my only quibble is that the brass works weren’t placed first on the disk for the weight and seriousness of the Maw deserves to be left alone at the end. But full marks for this enterprising series of re–issues.

Bob Briggs

 

see also review by Rob Barnett

 

 

 

 


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