Wind Blown: Sonatas for wind instruments
Peter HOPE (b.1930)
Sonata for Oboe and Piano (2009) [14:15]
Sonata for Clarinet and Piano (2015) [13:30]
Sonata for Recorder and Piano (2016) [10:42]
Sonata for Bassoon and Piano (2015) [11:33]
Tallis Remembered, for clarinet, recorder and piano (2013) [3:34]
A Walk with my Dog, Molly, for speaker and recorder [3:32]
Richard Simpson (oboe), Thomas Verity (clarinet), John Turner (recorder), Frank Forst (bassoon)
Janet Simpson (piano: oboe), Simon Passmore (piano: clarinet, Tallis), Harvey Davies (piano: recorder), Yukiko Sano (piano: bassoon)
Pam Zinnemann-Hope (speaker: walk)
rec. Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester, 3-4 April 2016
DIVINE ART DDA25137 [59:36]

It is an unfortunate truism about Peter Hope that many listeners will associate him with a single work: the ubiquitous Suite: The Ring of Kerry. This is a splendid piece that demands regular performance on radio and in concert hall. Nevertheless, it blinds the listener to Hope’s musical achievement. There are indeed, several wonderful examples of light music in his catalogue, but also many arrangements and theme music for the BBC Concert Orchestra. This was his speciality for many years. Recently, Peter Hope has decided to concentrate on more ‘serious’ music. This has resulted in a slew of fine works including concertos for bassoon and for recorder, a Serenade for string trio, and two large scale cantatas: Along the Shore and The Song of Solomon.

The present CD comprises four significant sonatas for wind instruments, all composed in the past few years. Also included are two smaller, but equally interesting pieces.

A great place to start exploring this outstanding CD is the heartachingly beautiful Tallis Remembered for clarinet, recorder and piano. This timeless little piece was composed for the 2013 William Alwyn Festival where it featured a violin instead of the clarinet. The work was inspired by Wendy Cope’s wistful poem ‘Tallis’s Canon’ and is effectively a set of through-composed variations on Tallis’s well-known tune. It is good that the text of the poem has been provided in the liner notes.

A Walk with my dog Molly, is a little bit of a novelty piece. Written for the unusual combination of recorder and speaker, it is a tour de force for the wind instrument.  The original work would appear to have been conceived as a solo recorder ‘In Memoriam’ for the Hope family’s ‘Staffordshire Terrier’, Molly. The spoken part (Pam Zinnemann-Hope), complete with ‘noises off’, is a humorous homage to a well-loved animal. The work will survive as a complex solo for recorder.

For something more serious, the listener should turn to the Sonata for bassoon and piano. For anyone imagining a chamber version of The Rings of Kerry, they should think again. Although this work is approachable and largely tonal in its working out, it is a million miles away from so-called ‘light music.’ The sonata is presented in three movements, beginning with a little introduction from the bassoon. This is soon joined by an acerbic ‘spiky’ piano accompaniment to a livelier melody. There is a tranquil moment of considerable beauty before the sparkling tune remerges. The opening thought is repeated before the sonata glides into the middle ‘lento.’ There is a contemplative mood to this movement, which is characterised by a melody in the bassoon’s high register. The central section is agitated and almost disturbing in its intensity. The work closes with a vibrant rondo with a memorable refrain and couple of fetching episodes.

The sonata was written for the present soloists in 2015, and was first heard in Nordhorn, Germany in that year. The playing of the bassoon part by Frank Forst is simply stunning, not forgetting the fine piano playing by Yukiko Sano.

The Sonata for clarinet and piano was commissioned by the Ida Carroll Trust to commemorate the opening of the Ida Carroll Walkway at the Royal Northern College of Music on 21 April 2015. It was performed there by the present soloists, Thomas Verity (clarinet) and Simon Passmore (piano), who give a splendid account on this CD. The work opens with a surprisingly (for the event) lugubrious ‘moderato.’ Nevertheless, this is countermanded by a rumbustious ‘vivace’ which is rhythmically interesting and technically demanding. The liner notes explain that the final movement, ‘Freely, Allegro’ is subtitled ‘The Clarinettist on the Roof.’ It has, we are told without explanation, a ‘Klezmer’ feel. The allusion is to the 1960s musical Fiddler on the Roof, in this case substituted by the clarinettist. The word ‘Klezmer’ is a Yiddish catch-all word for a style of music deriving from the Ashkenazi Jewish communities in Eastern Europe and Russia. The music, as a genre and in Hope’s piece, covers a wide range of moods ‘from soulful to energetic.’

It comes hardly as a surprise to discover that the Recorder Sonata was written for John Turner. Peter Hope acknowledges that Turner has ‘encouraged the composition of many new works for recorder written in a wide variety of musical styles and thereby encouraged many composers.’

The middle movement was written before the outer ones. This was premiered at St Marys’ Church, Stockport during a memorial service on 23 April 2016 for the historian Nicholas Henshall, who had died in September 2015. It is a threnody that exploits a straightforward musical form and perfectly poised melody. The opening largely introspective ‘fantasia’ develops into a lyrical mood with some very romantic sounding piano accompaniment. There is a more animated episode before the thoughtful mood is restored. The last movement is a technically challenging ‘moto perpetuo.’ The soloist must play both treble and tenor recorders during a brief interlude, whilst the coda played on the descant recorder. It is a movement infused by jazz, a hornpipe and sheer vibrancy of rhythm and melody.

The opening work on this CD is the oldest, and in my opinion the best. The Sonata for oboe and piano was composed in 2009, once again for the Ida Carroll Trust. It was written in memory of Lady Barbirolli to celebrate her life and work. Evelyn Rothwell was born in 1911 and became one of the most celebrated oboists of her generation. In 1939 she married Sir John.

The Sonata opens with a long, almost melancholic movement signed ‘moderato.’ It is one of deepest pieces that I have heard from Hope’s pen. The mood changes with a dynamic scherzo presenting a satisfyingly contrasting trio. But even here, the mood is sad and reflective. Soon, the piece changes from that of remembrance to celebration in the final jazzy ‘eight in the bar’ number that Hope declares nods to his ‘semi-pro band playing’ during the 1940s. It is a very subtle bit of pastiche. Lady Barbirolli would have been delighted with this impressive tribute to her art both as a composition and as performed here by Richard and Janet Simpson. It is a sonata that ought to be in every oboist’s repertoire.

As noted in the body of the review, the playing is superb. The liner notes by the composer are essential reading. Biographies of the recitalist and Peter Hope are included. The sound experience is perfect. The sleeve art, by Robin Callahan is a splendid impression of the high Pennines overlooking a lamplit town - in my interpretation.

This new CD devoted to the music of Peter Hope is a ‘must’ for all enthusiasts of wind instruments and modern British music at its very best. All four sonatas are valuable additions to the repertoire. They balance approachability with considerable technical demands on the players. But most important of all, each one is a vital work that moves, impresses, inspires and is totally memorable.

John France

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