Manchester Sounds

Brief Encounter is a notable example of a man visiting the past with the eyes of tomorrow. Crosse took a friend to Oxenholme station in the Lake District to pick up the London train and this reminded him of the very successful David Lean film Brief Encounter in which important scenes were set in a waiting-room at Carnforth station, one stop away from where he was standing. The occasion prompted a work about railway farewells, and it coincided with a request from his friend John Turner for a piece for recorder and oboe. The work was completely sketched out in his head during his homeward journey. The composer thought his new music was simpler than it had previously been. To quote him: ‘I had just returned to composing after a break of some eighteen years, but now the works were pouring out.’ He decided to replace the oboe with the more plangent oboe d’amore as favoured by baroque composers. Both outer sections are slow and sombre, the central section being increasingly restless.

As concerns his Concerto for viola and strings with French horn, Crosse confessed that this short but potent work was a sweeping together of themes he had jotted down as they had occurred to him. Other ideas were originally material from an abandoned trumpet concerto of 1986 (scrapped as ‘a disaster’) and this origin can be easily deduced from the style of the melody played three times in the second movement. A derivation of a theme from the first movement recurs in the finale (with a tune that Crosse likens to the music of the Scottish composer Hamish MacCunn) where it is brought together with mechanistic rhythms and a Durham miners’ song (material from the abandoned concerto). In a sort of coda the material from the first movement returns in a seriously contemplative section, to which the French horn makes a haunting contribution. The whole work is magically scored. Since all the horn’s music is doubled in the strings, it could in theory be omitted, but the composer thinks it is ‘absolutely vital’ in order to add weight and colour to the texture.

In the long and beautiful fantasia on the folk-tune Ca’ the yowes the solo writing is luxurious (on this disc played on the recorder) and one can understand why Vaughan Williams’s Fantasia on Greensleeves was a source of inspiration. It is a continuous set of short sections, some of them quoting the complete tune, others using only fragments. ‘The wonderful simplicity of RVW eluded me’, says Crosse, but he is too severe on himself.

John Manduell’s Flutes Concerto, commissioned by Kent Nagano for the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra in California, was first per­formed by them in January 2003 and is a masterly example of Manduell’s style. It is civilized and disciplined music. The concerto is dedicated to Vincent Lucas, principal flautist in the Orchestre de Paris. Provision is made for the concert flute, the alto flute, and the piccolo. What happens at the start of the concerto is best described by the composer: “The concerto also embraces a spatial element in that the soloist at the start can be heard offering a simple call in the distance. He then quietly appears and slowly approaches the front of the platform while repeating variations on the opening call. Once he is in position near the conductor, the movement can get under way with vigour.” The concert flute has the first movement to itself, conceding the second movement to the alto.

An attractive melody for the alto flute dominates the slow move­ment and the piccolo joins its brethren in the finale, which ends by reversing the melody from the start of the work as the soloist slowly retreats out of view accompanied by the rattle of a rainstick (a tube of cardboard or wood filled with nails, dried peas. etc.. which rattles when shaken). This seems to me to be an important work, original in concept and execution. There is a prominent part for harp. Timothy Reynish conducts with a keen ear for the subtle scoring.

Manduell’s exciting Double Concerto work has had two separate existences, twenty-five years apart. Commissioned by the BBC for the 1985 Cardiff Festival, it was composed while he was on a sabbatical year during which he visited the newly founded Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts, to whose first principal, Basil Deane, the work is dedicated. Originally the solo instruments were a Chinese flute (dizi) and a single-stringed Chinese viola (erhu). In the later version, these were replaced by oboe and cor anglais. It is the most exuberant of the works on this disc, lively in rhythm and strong in melody. It shows Manduell’s lighter side and certainly should appeal to small ensembles.

—Michael Kennedy