Gramophone

The Gramophone Debate in the March issue asked “Where are all the tunes?”. John Rutter admitted to “a sadness that we have almost lost permission to include a tune that the world will remember in a contemporary concert composition”. I should add my regret that so many high-profile composers today feel they have to eschew both melody and tonality. But there is hope. Andrew Lamb gave a warm welcome to the music of Grant Foster in the same issue. I’d like to do the same to David Earl’s.

His 1998 Sonata for Cello and Piano begins, after its opening bars of gloomy foreboding, with a broad, sweeping movement of appealing lyricism in traditional sonata form. Unexpectedly, the following two movements (Moderato assai and Elegiaco) become progressively more subdued, gradually subsiding into an elegy of “implacable resignation” (Earl’s own description). A rewarding work played with laudable conviction by the two young musicians who gave its first performance.

Earl was ordained into the Western Buddhist Order in 2001 and his 1996 Piano Suite is inspired by Buddhist imagery (“mandala” is a Sanskrit word meaning “circle” or “ring”). The composer goes into some detail in the booklet about this and its effect on the work’s structure, but the four movements can be enjoyed perfectly well without reference to “vajras”, “flames”, “lotuses” and a “mandala of the Five Archetypal Buddhas” that they depict. I was particularly taken with the motoric second movement and serene third. Earl is an accomplished performer who knows how to make the instrument sing, For those who like their contemporary music tonal, substantial and individual, I suggest you investigate.

—Jeremy Nicholas