The two-disc ‘Mixed Doubles’ album brings together double concertos by Gordon Crosse and John Manduell: a Lancashire connection may be made between Crosse’s birthplace (Bury) and Johannesburg-born Manduell’s tenure as founder Principal of the Royal Northern College of Music. After initial promise (the oboe concerto Ariadne, the Three Choirs Festival oratorio Changes ) and later lack of support, Crosse moved to the USA and has only recently resumed composition after an 18-year gap. The ten-minute Brief Encounter (2009) is scored for oboe d’amore, recorder and strings and thereby, even if inadvertently, is conveniently programmable by Baroque ensembles. The 23-minute Viola Concerto with strings and horn (2009: Matthew Jones the expert soloist) uses music partly recycled from a ‘disastrous’ (the composer’s own word) Trumpet Concerto from 1986. The Fantasia on ‘Ca’ the Yowes’ is, resourcefully, scored like Vaughan Williams’s ‘Greensleeves’ fantasia: flute – or, as here, recorder harp (Anna Christensen) – originally clarsach – and strings. The three works are thoughtful and expertly crafted, though an air of resigned pessimism prevails. Browsers could start with the Viola concerto’s finale.
Sir John Manduell’s Flutes Concerto (2000) (the soloist plays flute, also flute and piccolo) starts purposefully, though the music soon (and often) stops dead for atmospheric interludes. The sub-concertante parts for harp (Deian Rowlands this time) and percussion include what sound like tuned tin cans (Messiaen’s cencerros, perhaps? – the booklet could have told us) and – can this be so? – the prolonged rustling of wrapping-paper. Soloist Michael Cox expertly negotiates the flourishes, harmonics, pitch bends and what not. The Double Concerto, for oboe and cor anglais, reworks a 1985 Cardiff Festival commission originally scored for dizi and erhu (Chinese flute and single-stringed viola). Oriental stasis seems a default setting, though orchestral percussion is plentiful and vigorous. Richard Simpson and Alison Teale do the Westernized solo parts proud. The full scores, which I have not seen, may specify the reduced string strength used here – apologies if so – but on aural evidence this music needed at least one more desk all round. The Manchester Sinfonia players, under Timothy Reynish, cope valiantly, sounding uncomfortable only in Crosse’s Ca’ the Yowes. This piece is also more closely recorded than the others, and recorder soloist John Turner’s first note will blow you out of your seat.