Anthony Burgess: The Man and his Music
see end of review for track listing
John Turner (recorders); Harvey Davies (piano)
rec. 2, 9 September, 16 December 2012, International Anthony Burgess
METIER MSV77202 [69:43 + 53:45]
When John Turner gave me the ‘heads up’
about this CD, I was confused. I had never heard of a composer called
‘Anthony Burgess’. Yet here was a double-disc CD dedicated
to his achievement. I mentioned this to a friend. She said, was he not
the Third or Fourth Man? After a deal of head-scratching we resolved
that he was probably not Antony Blunt, Guy Burgess nor any of the ‘Cambridge
Five’. Then the penny dropped. ‘Clockwork Orange’.
Every teenager of my generation had lied about their age to see this
film at the cinemas in the early nineteen-seventies. I did not enjoy
it. I still prefer Ealing comedies to Stanley Kubrick’s edgy,
dystopian masterpiece. I recalled Burgess had written the novel on which
the film was based. I never read the book. Googling his name I discovered
that he was much more than an author. His occupations are listed as
‘novelist, critic, composer, librettist, poet, playwright, screenwriter,
essayist, travel writer, broadcaster, translator, linguist and educationalist’.
Enough activity for a dozen lifetimes.
It is with Burgess’s musical activities that this CD is concerned.
His musical achievements are considerable: he wrote piano music and
songs, a massive setting of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ ‘The
Wreck of the Deutschland’, an operetta ‘Blooms of Dublin’
to a libretto based on James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’ as
well as three symphonies and chamber music for a variety of instrumental
forces. Apparently he composed in excess of 250 works. His First Symphony
was written when he was only eighteen years old. Yet searching Arkiv
reveals only a disc of three ‘Quartets for 4 Guitars’ in
their listings. It is currently unavailable. MDT and Crotchet return
David Wordsworth has written that Burgess ‘described his music
as ‘‘post tonal’ - perhaps neo-romantic’.
Anthony Burgess: The Man and his Music is effectively presented
as two recitals - back to back. Each CD contains two compositions by
Burgess as well as a wide-ranging selection of pieces by contemporary
composers. Casting my eyes down the batting order reveals a number of
names that I have never heard of before, a few that are ‘famous’
and one or two that ring a bell.
Beginning with four ‘well-known’ composers, Gordon Crosse’s
‘The Thing with Feathers’ was written in 2010 to celebrate
the 80th birthday of the composer Peter Hope. There is a
literary connection to Emily Dickinson’s poem ‘Hope is the
Thing with Feathers’. It is an attractive piece that is full of
sunshine and bird calls. I am pleased that Crosse is composing again
after an intermission of many years.
Alan Rawsthorne wrote incidental music for the 1961 Stratford-upon-Avon
production of Hamlet. The composer wrote sections for recorder
and also for wind band. The music has been realised for recorder and
piano by David Ellis. I love this music: for me it is the major discovery
on this disc.
Herbert Murrill is known to those who haunt the organ loft for his impressive
Carillon but remains largely undiscovered for the majority of
listeners, in spite of his ‘Country Dances’ for orchestra
being recently released on Dutton Epoch. The present ‘Sarabande’
was described as ‘A Christmas Greeting for Pau Casals.’
It was formerly published for violin, viola or cello. Interestingly,
John Turner considers that the piece was originally conceived for recorder
- an instrument that Murrill played. The ‘violin’ part,
when transposed up an octave ‘fits the treble recorder like a
glove, being extremely idiomatic as well as in perfect range’.
Whatever the original instrumentation, this piece works well. It is
reflective music that has a melody that seems to be something heard
a long while ago.
Mátyás Seiber was an émigré from Budapest
who arrived in the United Kingdom in 1935. His achievement is inclusive:
as well as composing he worked as a teacher and an administrator. Seiber
has written a wide range of scores, including the cantata Ulysses,
choral settings based on Hungarian folk tunes, a clarinet concertino,
film music and an opera. The present ‘Pastorale’ was originally
written in 1941 for recorder and string trio. The work was later expanded
for flute and strings and a ‘Burlesque’ was added. The ‘Pastorale’
has a definite feel of folk-music and is written in a rhapsodic style.
The West-Country composer Nicolas Marshall (b.1942) studied with Anthony
Milner and Lennox Berkeley. His career so far has included conducting,
lecturing, playing the piano as well as composing. He has produced a
varied sonata that features an acerbic opening ‘con moto’
followed by a more introspective ‘elegy’. The finale is
technically difficult - with double-tonguing and incisive rhythms: this
truly ‘fizzes with energy.’ The sonata was premiered in
2005 and was commissioned by The Friends of Fulbourn Hospital. It is
not a work that I warm to; nevertheless it is well-balanced and technically
effective for both instruments.
Alan Gibbs, born 1932, studied composition with Mátyás
Seiber. After National Service he was head of music at Archbishop Tenison’s
School in London. He remained there for more than thirty years. He has
composed incidental music, an opera, Verity Street, chamber works
and incidental music for radio. ‘Blithe Spirit’ refers to
Shelley’s poem rather than the wonderful film starring Rex Harrison
and the gorgeous Kay Hammond. This short piece was written in 2000.
It is a skittish number that uses a variety of technical effects on
the recorder - some of which seem harsh. Whether it reflects the poet’s
intention is a matter of opinion. Personally I feel it is a little too
extrovert to express the thought of ‘Our sweetest songs are those
that tell of saddest thought’.
Wilfred Josephs’ Sonatine, Op.4 was written sixty years ago: it
retains its fresh and sunny prospect. The opening movement has ‘cheeky
wrong notes’ - the ‘elegie’ is a little more thoughtful,
whilst the concluding ‘caprice’ is pure fun. It is a piece
that I would expect to be in the repertoire of all recorderists. A joy
to listen to.
I did not enjoy Barry Ferguson’s ‘The Untamed has a Language
but no Word’ -both the title and the music are long-winded. There
may be some attractive moments as the work progresses, but it left me
as cold as the ‘snow-covered island’ that inspired the piece.
I have yet to come across something by David Dubery that did not impress
and satisfy me. The present Sonata is no exception. Although this work
is short, almost like a Sonatina, the material demands greater attention.
There is a lot of harmonic and textural variety in the opening ‘andantino’.
The slow movement is more ‘chilled’ with a blue-note here
and there. It has the mood of a ‘pop’ song - and that is
no criticism. The finale is inspired. The piano and recorder work together
to produce a toccata-like texture. The middle section has a good old-fashioned
tune that contrasts vividly with the preceding filigree. There is a
reprise of the opening theme of the first movement that brings this
miniature masterpiece to a conclusion.
David Dubery was born in South Africa in 1948 but has lived in the United
Kingdom since he was a teenager. His music includes several orchestral
tone poems - I want to hear these - choral works, songs and chamber
Roy Heaton Smith is a Manchester lad - having been born in Middleton
in 1928. After working as an accounts clerk he studied piano with Noel
Walton (William’s brother) and composition with Richard Hall.
He subsequently studied at the Royal Manchester College of Music and
then the Royal Academy of Music in London. His catalogue includes a
Clarinet Concerto. The beautiful ‘Sonatina alla Fantasia’,
Op.23 was written when he was still a student in Manchester, but was
subsequently dedicated to John Turner. The middle section ‘chorale’
where solo tenor recorder passages are interspersed with rich chord
on the piano is particularly successful. The final ‘jig’
is totally effective and uses the descant recorder.
The unfortunate tale of Peter Pope should be a sobering lesson to us
all. He was born in 1917 and studied musical composition at the Royal
College of Music with John Ireland. In 1939, he won a scholarship which
enabled him to study with Nadia Boulanger in Paris. Managing to escape
the German invasion of the city he escaped to Britain on a Spanish trawler.
After active service with the Royal Army Medical Corp in North Africa
he returned to his musical studies. A major event in his career was
a performance of his Piano Quintet at the Wigmore Hall in 1948. It was
a critical success. Alas, he became ensnared in a fanatical sub-Christian
sect that prohibited any involvement ‘with the creative arts’.
It was to be a number of years before he saw sense and escaped their
clutches. Unfortunately, his musical career had been halted: he was
unable to pick up from where he had left off. This did not stop him
composing. According to the liner-notes his subsequent works include
a Clarinet Concerto, a Concertino for flute and string trio, a number
of piano sonatas, various instrumental sonatas as well as a deal of
chamber music and songs. Peter Pope died in 1991 with virtually all
his music still in manuscript.
The present Recorder Sonatina is the only work by Pope to have been
commercially published (at present) and dates from 1939. This short
work opens with a delightful ‘allegro molto moderato’ which
is a vigorous dialogue between the two soloists. Considerable use is
made of canon and fugal devices. The movement closes quietly. The ‘lento
molto’ has a lovely melody that is skilfully supported by delicious
chords. The finale is a rondo that fairly scampers along. This Sonatina
is no ‘lost masterpiece’ and does not imply a ‘misplaced
genius’ but based on the skill and craftsmanship that clearly
informs this work, I look forward to hearing more of Peter Pope’s
The ‘Sonata alla Danza’ is a recent work from the Bristolian
composer Dick Blackford. This is a charming study in English ‘pastoralism’
in spite of the fact the each of the movements has a baroque title.
The main thrust of this sonata is in the opening ‘bourree’.
The Sarabande is an exploration of landscape. The composer uses both
the treble and the bass recorders in this movement. Of all the recorders
I like the bass one the best. The finale makes use of every recorder
in the book. To me it is all a little too complex - effect for effect’s
sake. The piano part carries a huge amount of interest in this work,
often outshining the recorder. I hope that John Turner will forgive
me if I say that of all the pieces on these two CDs this is the one
I should like to hear arranged for flute or oboe and piano.
Christopher Wright’s Sonata was composed in 2007. Wright was born
in Ipswich in 1954. He studied composition at the Colchester Institute
under Richard Arnell and later Alan Bullard. In 1993 he gave up his
post as a schoolmaster and turned to full time composition. He has written
a number of concertos (horn, violin, oboe and cello), choral works and
a quantity of chamber music including there string quartets. Like most
of the pieces on these discs the sonata is immediately approachable.
The opening movement is like a dialogue between the recorder and the
pianist. It does feel at times a little disjointed and edgy. The middle
movement is a long song that is not quite as free-flowing as the liner-notes
suggest. There is a good sense of balance between the reflective ‘minuet’
and a more aggressive ‘trio’ section. The final movement
is also antagonistic. The composer dabbles with ‘jazz-based rhythms’
that do not seem to quite come off. The middle section seems unrelated
to what has preceded.
I loved John Sullivan’s short, well crafted ‘Joie de Vivre’
(2009). This work was composed in a tuneful, approachable style more
akin to the best of British light music. Sullivan is a Mancunian composer
and music teacher, born in 1951: he has composed a wide variety of music
including music for wind and brass ensembles, chorus and also for electronic
Finally, I will consider Anthony Burgess’s contribution. His first
work on this CD is the Sonatina which was composed around 1990. It was
written for his son Andrew who had originally taken up the oboe but
later switched to the recorder. The score had a number of lacunae but
these were reconstructed by David Beck. The Sonatina is written in three
contrasting movements. John Turner suggests that it was written in emulation
of Lennox Berkeley’s similar work composed in 1939. Like most
of Burgess’s works presented here is written in what might termed
a ‘spicy but accessible’ modern style.
The ‘Tre Pezzetti’ was published in 1994. They are neat,
concise little numbers. The word ‘pezzetti’ is quite simply
Italian for pieces! Nothing too difficult to get to grips with here.
The Sonata No. 1 in C was composed is dated Good Friday 1990 and was
duly published in 1992 at the instigation of Andrew Burgess Wilson.
The work was conceived for bass recorder, an instrument that the composer
suggested had no existing compositions. He deemed that his work was
the ‘first of a possible repertoire’: he was to compose
another three sonatas for this instrument. Due to tonal balancing issues,
John Turner has chosen to play the first and the last movement on a
descant recorder with the bass recorder used in the middle ‘largo.’
It is an attractive, lightweight work that has memorable, almost ‘Arnoldian’
tunes. The bass recorder is especially effective.
The final work on this recital is Burgess’ short, undated ‘Siciliano’,
written for the tenor recorder and piano: it may have been part of a
larger work. John Turner is correct in describing this music as ‘beguiling’.
It brings this two-disc recital to a reflective conclusion.
The liner notes are a model of their kind. The short, but informative
introduction about the musical side of Anthony Burgess’s career
by David Wordsworth is pitched just right. The remainder of the programme
notes are written by John Turner and give detailed information and opinion
on each of the works presented. Helpful biographical notes on the composers
are also provided.
The sound recording is typically excellent; I did notice one or two
distortions on some of the high notes of the soprano recorder.
As usual, with any project that John Turner turns his hand to, this
is a major success. From the playing of both the soloists that is perfect,
through the liner-notes, the design of the CD and the selection of the
programme, I am totally impressed.
I enjoyed most of the pieces on this double-CD set: I reiterate my suggestion
that these eighteen works are taken at a leisurely pace. I would find
it difficult to digest nine sonatas or sonatinas for recorder and piano
at a single sitting.
I noted above that some of the composers presented here are ‘well-known’;
other less so. It is good to see that Metier is giving an opportunity
for the second groups’ music to be heard. I was particularly impressed
with Peter Pope, David Dubery and John Sullivan. Let us hope that we
can hear more music from their pens, as well as from the others in the
Anthony BURGESS (1917-1993)
Sonatina for recorder and piano (c.1990) [9:04]
Nicolas MARSHALL (b.1942)
Sonata for recorder and piano (2005) [13:43]
Alan GIBBS (b.1932)
Blithe Spirit (2000) [4:09]
Gordon CROSSE (b.1937)
‘The Thing with Feathers’ (2010) [2:50]
Wilfred JOSEPHS (1927-1997)
Sonatina Op.4 (1953) [4:03]
Barry FERGUSON (b.1942)
‘The Untamed has a Language but no Words’ (2012) [5:56]
David DUBERY (b.1948)
Sonata for recorder and piano (2011) [8:41]
Alan RAWSTHORNE (1905-1971) arr. David ELLIS (b.1933)
Interludes from Hamlet (1961 arr.2005) [9:08]
Roy Heaton SMITH (b.1928)
Sonatina alla Fantasia, Op.23 (1950/51) [7:52]
Tre Pezzetti (1994) [3:22]
Herbert MURRILL (1909-1952)
Sarabande (c.1950) [3:37]
Peter POPE (1917-1991)
Sonatina for recorder and piano (1939/48) [6:32]
Dick BLACKFORD (b.1936)
Sonata alla danza (2011/12) [11:52]
Christopher WRIGHT (b.1954)
Sonata for recorder and piano (2007) [13:42]
Mátyás SEIBER (1905-1960)
Pastorale (1941) [3:34]
John SULLIVAN (b.1951)
Joie de Vivre (2009) [3:24]
Sonata No.1 in C for recorder and piano (1990) [8:32]
Siciliano (?) [2:12]