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REVIEW Plain text for smartphones & printers


Michael PARKIN (b.1949)
Inevitable inventions, for violin and piano (1994) [13.55]
Elegy, for flute (1984) [5.43]
Piano Sonata (1991-2) [12.26]
Where the waves rise, for flute (2004) [5.17]
Cello Sonata (2000-2) [16.48]
Prelude and Fugue No 2, for piano (2011) [7.50]
Prelude and Fugue No 3, for piano (2012) [5.48]
The courting rites of cranes, for flute, viola and harp (2013) [12.04]
Jenny Doyne, Epsie Thompson (flutes), Craig Greene, Michael Hampton, Ian Pace (pianos), Matthew Jones (violin, viola), Christopher Terepin (cello), Inbar Vernia (harp)
rec. Concert Hall, Cardiff University Great Hall, July 2015 except Fieldgate Studios, 2010 (Inventions)

This conspectus of the chamber music of Michael Parkin, recorded with assistance from the RVW Trust, serves to illustrate the work of a composer based in west Wales whose music has been the subject of a number of releases over the last few years. His string quartet Do not go gentle I reviewed with much enjoyment in the summer of 2014. At that time I observed that the work “could not be described as easy to listen to, but it has a sense of culminating passion and drive which is immediately compelling.” The same could be said for the music here, except that some of the tracks are immensely attractive on the very first hearing, especially the pieces featuring the flute. I should mention that I have got to know the composer fairly well in the last couple of years, largely because our mutual addiction to nicotine has led to quite a few enjoyable conversations shivering outside concert venues – although since Parkin has now managed to quit the habit, I imagine that such encounters will cease. I was however pleased to be invited to a reception to launch this CD, where Epsie Thompson played a couple of flute solos including a version of the Elegy which seemed to be considerably longer and more discursive than that we hear on this disc.

The final track on this CD, since it gives its title to the whole disc, perhaps should be considered first. This is one of the pieces here which has an immediate appeal to the ear, and its scoring for flute (doubling alto flute), viola and harp brings comparison with Debussy’s beautiful trio for the same forces. In musical terms it need not fear such a comparison although the writing for the instruments has a decidedly oriental flavour – the title derives from the Japanese tradition where cranes are reputed to live for one thousand years and renew their lifelong bonds regularly. The flute melody at 8.01 is absolutely heavenly — there is no other word to describe it. Parkin’s music frequently takes its inspiration from non-European sources; the Elegy derives from a recording of an African pigmy girl singing, Inevitable inventions makes use of both Japanese and Javanese scales, and even Where the waves rise derives from a Portuguese melody. This lends to his music a tincture which is far removed from English pastoralism, yet at the same time has a similarly evocative effect to such seemingly disparate works as The lark ascending.

The very opening of the disc however may startle some listeners. Inevitable inventions begins with a strongly declamatory passage – the work was written in memory of the composer’s mother, recently deceased just before the piece was commenced. It is not until a sustained violin solo beginning at 3.01 that the music becomes more reflective. The bending of the melodic line to accommodate quarter-tones serves notice that this is modern music, but the results are beguiling even when the listener might have been better served by a more distant and resonant recorded sound. The other tracks on this disc, recorded more recently, have a much more approachable acoustic atmosphere. The playing of Matthew Jones and Michael Hampton is precise and clear and can survive the close scrutiny to which it is subjected.

In the pieces for solo flute (and alto flute) Elegy and Where the waves rise Epsie Thompson is wonderfully atmospheric, coping with passages of flutter-tongue, quarter-tones and so on with poise and deceptive ease. The two pieces are separated by the Piano Sonata, an energetic piece with a sense of violence which perhaps suggests an underlying programme although no such indications are given in the composer’s strictly technical booklet note. He does rather engagingly comment that “there is little respite for either the pianist or the listener in this one movement work” which might suggest something more forbidding than we actually experience; there is a driving excitement which is mightily impressive, and Ian Pace plays it all superbly.

The Cello Sonata is a more approachable piece than the Piano Sonata from ten years earlier, and the composer cites the influence of German romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich in the inspiration of the work. The delicate piano filigree does indeed suggest the reflection of light through leaves into a dark forest, with the cello providing a rich and warmly expressive melodic line. The music builds to an impassioned climax without breaking the spell, and the closing pages are (as the composer observes) “characterised by an uneasy calm”. Both players capture the mood with expressive effect. The two piano Preludes and Fugues which follow are far from the purely academic exercises which their titles might suggest, with a disturbing undertow which underpins the third Prelude and a cheeky nursery rhyme in the second. I am unclear why the two tracks are presented in reverse order on the CD.

When reviewing the earlier disc from this same company which included Parkin’s string quartet I commented unfavourably on the very short length of silences between the individual tracks. I am afraid that similar observations must be made here; the flute Elegy, for example, comes far too quickly after the end of the violin and piano Inevitable inventions, and the change in both instrumentation and recorded sound comes as quite a shock. So does the sudden eruption of the Piano Sonata at the end of the Elegy with hardly a pause for breath. Since the CD is very full, this may have been the result of the need to reduce any ‘extraneous’ matter; but listeners may well wish to have the pause button ready to hand when listening to the disc straight through.

Michael Parkin studied with William Mathias, and those who enjoy the music of the latter will clearly find similar appreciation in the current disc. Works such as the Elegy and The courting rites of cranes have a sense of beauty and poise which will appeal to wider audiences. The booklet notes by the composer are extensive and informative.

Paul Corfield Godfrey



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