John Jeffreys might well attribute his instinctive fondness for melodic lines and rich contemplative gestures to his Welsh parentage, though it all sounds much closer to the very Englishness of a musical environment that would have enveloped one brought up as a choir boy between the wars, singing Tallis and playing Grieg and Grainger arrangements in his piano lessons , whilst surrounded by Elizabethan poets at home.
Song was a natural outlet for his creativity. But he was equally drawn to the orchestra , and particularly the sound of the strings , conjuring from them a Serenade back in 1959 — a birthday tribute for the violinist André Mangeot who did so much between the wars to promote contemporary music in this country. In this there are unmistakable overtones of, for instance, both Delius and Frank Bridge .
This CD includes two Elegies for close friends. One is to the pianist John Fry, with whom Mangeot and Barbirolli would play trios. This is a warm and peaceful tribute that ends with an agonised cry just before its final rest.
The other homage is to Kenneth Page, conductor of the Birmingham Symphony for twenty seven years, an enthusiastic champion of new music and the director in the recording of the Serenade on this CD. This Elegy for a Conductor , in which the cor anglais takes a principal melodic role , and flute , horn and trumpet add colour to the small orchestra, is again a delicately scored piece, dark and peaceful at its close with the soaring violin and a distant trumpet call.
Jonathan Veira is the fine baritone featured in all the songs , among which the setting of Ivor Gurney ‘s Poem for End is a substantial work, beautifully paced and scored for flute and strings accompaniment .
The recording also includes a set of piano pieces — diversions rather than variations on a single melodic fragment — dedicated to the memory of the family ‘s devoted dog: Toby’s Dreams and Elegy , the songs Sweeney the Mad and A Lyke Wake Dirge , and a short atmospheric piece Bickleigh Idyll evoking an English summer walk along the River Exe, long a source of inspiration for the composer . Jeffreys is now eighty three and has waited a long time to share his gentle passions and distinctive craftsmanship with us.