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 The Nightingales  Ode to Mananan  The Weather the Cuckoo Likes  The Piper  Two Songs  Lullaby  Trio  Twilight it is  "C-H" Recitative and Aria  Oboe Sonata in C, Op. 100  Philomel  I Know a Bank  The Holy Boy  The Magical Island  Six Metamorphoses after Ovid, Op. 49
Performed by Lesley-Jane Rogers (soprano), John Turner (recorder), Richard Simpson (oboe), Keith Swallow (piano), Richard Howarth (violin) and Tom Dunn (viola).
An astonishing and enlightening disc, consisting mainly of world premières of music which project initiator/driving force and "recorderist" par excellence John Turner has rather self deprecatingly described as "byways". I could wax lyrical about Turner's entertaining, illuminating and completely authoratitive booklet notes (both about the music and its composers) but would rather concentrate on the music itself, especially that of Peter Crossley-Holland. He turned out to be an absolute musical (and cultural) touchstone to this listener - Celtic, eastern and early music influences abound, probably in that order of regularity/importance. In addition he was a Wilmslow resident, as I currently am, half a century ago - some of this music was composed here!
There are at least three currently available (and relatively recently recorded) versions of the Rubbra Oboe Sonata, including this one. The latter is not found particularly wanting nor superior alongside the Dutton and Hyperion/Helios efforts. Likewise the Britten Metamorphoses is given a solid performance but there are, again, quite a few alternative versions (Robin Canter on the defunct Carlton Classics has my vote at present). Anyway, these are not the main attractions, great though they are, of a disc of almost maximum length and therefore still containing getting on for an hour of hitherto virtually unknown but beautiful music.
We are treated to a couple of lovely songs by the very much (undeservedly) neglected Julius Harrison. There are also more adventurous works by John Manduell (a taut but emotional tribute to Crossley-Holland for viola and violin duet) and David Cox (the classically inspired vocal piece The Magical Island). There is an unusual version of John Ireland's The Holy Boy for violin and piano. However, this disc is mainly intended to illuminate key elements of Peter Crossley-Holland's muse and it achieves its aim magnificently. The Trio for recorder, oboe and viola is alone worth the price of the disc. It is a superb piece of beautiful yet ambiguous Celtic pastoralia. Tintagel and the Landes region of south-west France are invoked in two of the five movements titles. Having lived with this for a fortnight, I would say that it is at least as good as any equivalent piece in VW, Finzi, Howells and with the extra Celtic dimension. Describing its use of pentatonic and modal themes and drones sounds like a cliché but the music soars far, far beyond! This relatively early work sits very comfortably alongside the almost as great Ode to Mananan. This lyrical late piece for recorder and piano soon had me rooting for Emma Christian's seminal Beneath the Twilight on my CD shelf as a comparative listen for the Manx influence - authentic in the extreme and eminently listenable with it, as it turns out!
That leaves us with the songs, the most unforgettable of which come in pairs. The first twins a setting of Hardy's glorious Weathers with one of O'Sullivan's The Piper to great effect. Turner's recorder adds a different aspect to the Two Songs - The Philosopher Bird relates the tale of a gypsy's omniscient pet sparrow in the words of Crossley-Holland's poet son Kevin. The Fairy Workers has a similarly folkloric theme. At their best (i.e. most of the time) these pieces are up there with the Finzi of Garlands or Proud Songsters or Moeran's late but life-enhancing settings of songs from County Kerry.
This recording will be in my best three CDs of 2003. The Trio contains some of the most perfect folk-influenced classical music you are ever likely to hear (certainly this side of Milhaud or Martinů). The rest is pretty fantastic too. An absolute must-buy for anyone interested in British chamber music and songs written during the last hundred years. For the performances, the recording but above all the music - an absolute classic! Penguin Rosette material I should hope!