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Philip GRANGE (b. 1956)
Zeitgeist: Music by Philip Grange

The Kingdom of Bones for mezzo and large ensemble (1983) [21:57]
Lowry Dreamscape for brass band (1992) [8:34]
Diptych: (i) Sky-Maze with Song Shards for oboe and harp [6:41]; ii) Daedalus’s Lament for cor anglais and harp [10:38])
Concerto for Solo Clarinet Radical and Symphonic Wind Band - Shēng Shēng Bł Shí [21:36]
Northern Music Theatre/Graham Treacher; Sun Life Band/Roy Newsome; Okeanos: (Jinny Shaw (oboe/cor anglais); Lucy Wakeford (harp)); National Youth Wind Ensemble/Phillip Scott; Linda Hirst (mezzo); Sarah Williamson (clarinet)
rec. BBC, Maida Vale, May 1984 (The Kingdom of Bones); BBC Manchester, Studio 7, March 1995 (Lowry Dreamscape); Concert Hall, Music Department, University of Manchester, 9-10 September 2002 (Diptych); Wiltshire Arts Centre, 4 September 2005 (Concerto for Solo Clarinet)
Experience Classicsonline

This release has already received a review on these pages, but, as with so many things, hearing is believing. One of the joys of reviewing CDs is being able to discover new names, and with the Campion label we have ample opportunity to find out how much quality British music there is beyond the mainstream names. Philip Grange was yet another new name to me, which goes to show how much I’ve been keeping up with the UK scene since sadly allowing my SPNM membership to lapse.

The overall title ‘Zeitgeist’ refers in part to a common thread through the works on this disc, all of which have some inspirational source or commentary on political issues or world events. The Kingdom of Bones deals with some of the painful issues raised by the spectre of nuclear holocaust: something which was more at the forefront of everyone’s consciousness in 1983 than it is now. The text for the piece is in Russian, but the music has deep roots in the British palette of resonance – bells, for instance, play an important role, and the orchestration calls to mind some of the scores of Maxwell Davies, Goehr, Tippett and Britten, the textual clarity of latter also being a familial quality of the vocal settings. The melodic shapes have that duality of expression and abstraction which to my ears is also a feature of what once would have been categorised as avant-garde, but which now really need pose few difficulties. Grange avoids strict serialism and absolute atonality, but fans of Roberto Gerhard and Humphrey Searle will find plenty to get their teeth into in this piece, which is one of refined sensitivity and dramatic import, but also one of deadly seriousness.

Lowry Dreamscape as a title would seem to go together with ‘for brass band’ as well as bread and cheese. The work of L.S. Lowry of course goes far further than ‘matchstick’ anything, and the grim atmosphere of much of Grange’s music expresses the isolation felt by the artist, as well as the “apocalypse of grime” which is so potently explored in many of his paintings. Lowry Dreamscape is a fairly compact work, but has plenty of emotional drama and heft, the subtle touches of percussion extending the sound of virtuoso band taking the piece on with uncompromising style and panache.   

Diptych consist of two pieces which can be performed separately or together in the order recorded on this disc. Both pieces share the common theme of Daedalus, the first, Sky-Maze with Song Shards effectively expresses flight in the swooping upper ranges of the harp and oboe. The second, Daedalus’s Lament swaps the oboe for a more dolorous cor anglais, and the piece is partially inspired by the emotions and thoughts of the father on the loss of his son, and on to the less likely concept of ‘how he might feel if he knew that his invention had led to the events of 9/11.’ The piece is subtitled In memoriam 11.9.01, and as a composer’s legitimate and necessary response to such tragedy this piece is a heartfelt and psychologically well observed outpouring of tender reflection, dark lamentation, impotent anger and jagged pain.

Interestingly titled: Concerto for Solo Clarinet Radical and Symphonic Wind Band - Shēng Shēng Bł Shí, my first question was, why ‘Radical’? Fortunately, Philip Grange’s clear and useful booklet notes explain that the title refers both to the radicals used in the Chinese language, which may or may not be apparent, and more easily understood ‘the relationship between the soloist and the band.’ In the first half of the piece the clarinet is ‘radical’ in its leadership, initiating everything which happens in the accompaniment. As the music reaches a high point and a kind of collapse, the soloist takes up a ‘radical’ contrary position, at one point competing with and trying to block the band, and standing as a symbol of that lone student who stood against the tanks during the Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing in 1989. This is music which is full of succulent texture and a wealth of invention and colour, indicated in the Chinese part of the title: Shēng Shēng Bł Shí or ‘Ever growing, never stopping’, a quotation from the I-Ching. Other than some arguably exotic percussion effects, the score has however no direct elements of Chinese musical influence or ‘chinoiserie’, and the powerful style we have here is very much the composer’s own heady mix of intriguingly accessible and sometimes violently dramatic complexity.

This is a release filled with excellent musicians, superb recordings and performances of some fascinating music. The first two works are BBC sourced recordings, the second produced by the indefatigable promoter of top English music Stephen Plews: all are of superlative quality. This is not an ‘easy’ listen and will take you beyond the middle of numerous roads. If you are open to something which communicates on levels both visceral and intellectual then this will offer great rewards and some striking stimulation to receptive ears.


Dominy Clements        

see also review by Chris Thomas




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