Fanfare

The front cover of this disc proclaims Jim Parker as the “composer of music for Midsomer Murders, Foyle’s War, House of Cards and many more.” His music, on the present evidence, is engaging, always easy on the ear. The piece for recorder, harp, and string quintet, A South American Journey, was especially rescored for this combination for this recording; it was originally for recorder and harpsichord. Titles of the movements appear in Spanish (“any apparent linguistic expertise on my part is illusory,” says Parker; so is any impression that he actually travelled to South America, it turns out). The recorder fits surprisingly well into the piece. Be warned, there is a lot of reverb to the recording, something which is rather obvious after the closing gesture of the first piece, “Tango Cinco.” The recorder’s piercing tone intriguingly takes on the role of a “new” indigenous South American wind instrument in the long-breathed phrases of “Volando,” a movement whose central section explodes with surprising vehemence, the double bass underpinning and grounding the adventure. The happy-go-lucky finale, simply marked “Rapido,” is a terrific romp that suddenly darkens, taking the recorder into its husky lower registers.

The four-movement piece Bonjour M. Grappelli intriguingly reworks old themes by Parker into a tribute to Stéphane Grappelli and his energetic style of playing. So it is that themes from Body and Soul, Midsomer Murders, and a BBC musical called Petticoat Lane find their way into the experience. The second movement is particularly poignant, featuring some wonderful solos by the cello and viola players (Stephanie Tress and Alistair Vannart, respectively). The most advanced writing comes in the third movement, “Hurdy Gurdy.” The second violin is asked to play a quarter-tone flat at the beginning and end of the movement, to good, atmospheric effect. Everywhere, though, Parker’s skill and his Schubertian aptitude for a never-ending stream of melody is in evidence. Wit is certainly there in plentiful supply in this movement. The work’s final panel is a valediction to the star, entitled “Au revoir, M. Grappelli,” features a blues theme of Parker’s. Amy Tress’s sweet, high violin is a particular delight, while the quartet as a whole captures the atmosphere of bitter-sweet regret.

First performed at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, the Three Diversions features as its last movement a tribute to the well-loved musical commentator Antony Hopkins; that movement that takes the traditional song The Leaving of Liverpool as its basis. Jolly in tempo and phrasing, there remains an element of regret to the theme itself, a contrast Parker explores imaginatively. The string playing is particularly fine here. Again putting old music to good use, Parker takes themes from the television series Parnell and the Englishwoman in the first two movements. There’s more than a hint of the influence of Malcolm Arnold in the first movement’s carefree demeanor; this, in complete contrast to the interiorizations of the central, expansive “Paean” (the thought struck me this movement would surely be even more poignant for string orchestra).

There are no photos, and in fact no biography included, but I assume that Richard Simpson is the same oboist who was principal oboe with the Hallé Orchestra for a long time, and who provided me with many moments of pleasure in my formative years as an attendee in Manchester’s Free Trade Hall in the 1980s. As far as I recall, Janet Simpson is his wife and was also associated with the Hallé. They perform Hoofers, four pieces for oboe and piano, and the rich oboe tone of the opening does indeed imply to my ears it is the same Richard Simpson. The depiction of the train The Flying Scotsman, including oboe multiphonics, presumably invoking the train’s hooter, in the first movement is most involving. The musical language is the most advanced on the disc; the piano supplies the ongoing movement of the train. Inspired by the writings of P. G. Wodehouse, “Banjolele” refers to a hybrid instrument marrying the tuning of the ukulele with the percussive sound of the banjo. The piece is good old fun, frankly, invoking hoe-downs without, miraculously, making one think too much of Copland, while the next panel, “The Lonely Ballerina” (again using a theme from Midsomer Murders) depicts a reminiscing ballet dancer. The Simpsons play this beautifully, the oboe’s runs perfectly judged, the piano’s simple accompaniment the epitome of refinement. Finally there comes, “Hoofers,” slang for dancers. The music comes from a commissioned musical about Margaret Kelly and the Bluebell Girls of the Paris nightclub The Lido and offers a both literal and metaphorical high note on which to end.

A fun disc, without doubt—easy on the ear, especially in such expert performances as these.

—Colin Clarke