Gramophone

Born in Liverpool in 1933,David Ellis was a prize-winning composition student of Thomas Pitfield at Manchester’s Royal College of Music (where fellow incumbents included Birtwistle, Maxwell Davies, John Ogdon and his wife-to-be, Patricia Cunliffe). He joined the BBC’s Music Department in Manchester as a producer in 1964, eventually rising to the position of Head of Music, BBC North. After leaving the Corporation in 1986, he took up posts first with the Northern Chamber Orchestra (as Artistic Director and Composer-in-Residence) and then, in 1994, with the Portuguese SO in Lisbon (where he served as Assistant to the Chief Conductor, Alvaro Cassuto).

The works on this valuable compilation span some 52 years, from the agreeably rugged and rigorous Concert Music for strings from 1959 (premiered by Bryden Thomson and the BBC Welsh Orchestra 13 years later) to the powerfully affecting September Threnody (completed in 2011 and written in memory of his wife). Both Solus (1973) and Diversions (1974) were first given by the Manchester Camerata under Frank Cliff and are cast as sets of compact and inventive variations – the latter comprises an especially nourishing and witty specimen – while the exuberant and impeccably crafted Celebration was a 1980s commission from Sir John Manduell for the RNCM’s newly founded postgraduate orchestra. That just leaves the winsome, five-movement Vale Royal Suite, fashioned for a Cheshire-based amateur string group under its then chief, Richard Howarth. Suffice it to say, performances are uniformly excellent and recordings of varying vintage have all come up freshly. Do investigate this very likeable collection.

—Andrew Achenbach