Music & Vision

On the outside cover métier lists four performers : recorder (John Turner), piano (Peter Lawson), violin (Richard Howarth) and cello (Jonathan Price). The Manchester Chamber Ensemble has a line to itself. Inside the booklet, Turner, Lawson and Howarth reappear, teamed together minus Price, while members of the MCE are nominated separately as Howarth, Sarah Whittingham (violin), Richard Williamson ( viola ) and Jonathan Price (cello).

These six players : recorder, piano, two violins , viola and cello are among the busiest, most truly professional chamber players in the business. Their varied ensemble is typified by a pleasing, measured equanimity and innate sense of proportion; an ideal approach in music of pastoral character .

The three composers are first mentioned by name inside the CD booklet.

This release steers well clear of bigger guns among twentieth century British composers: the likes of (in no particular order) Walton , Tippett , Finzi , Delius , Moeran , Vaughan Williams , Bax , Maxwell Davies , Rubbra , Britten , Ireland and Elgar .

Michael Hurd studied music at Oxford and privately with Lennox Berkeley (1903- 1989 ), one of Nadia Boulanger ‘s stellar protégés in Paris (1927-1932). He taught composition at the Royal Marines School of Music ( 1953 -1959). The younger man settled in Hampshire and spent the rest of his working life composing , writing , conducting and talking about music. Among his biographical studies are profiles of Rutland Boughton , Ivor Gurney and Vincent Novello .

The opening item is Hurd’s three movement Violin and Piano Sonata (1979, revised 1985 ) with Howarth and Lawson. At a few seconds shy of thirteen and a half minutes, this sonata is the most substantial work in Hurd’s sparse chamber music oeuvre . Like much of his music, that on Pipings and Bowings has vestiges of the Second Viennese School rubbing shoulders with hints of Poulenc , Satie and Koechlin .

Tracks 4-8 comprise five miniature Preludes for solo piano (1989); the penultimate invention ( Adagio tranquillo 3’08”) is the one item lasting more than two minutes. The variety continues in a Sonatina with Recorder and Piano ( 1964 , revised 2002 ), a perfectly balanced piece , with polar allegros wrapped around a Largo e tranquillo .

Hurd’s contribution ends with a still briefer Three-piece suite for Recorder and String Quartet ( 2004 ). In summing up his own work, Hurd regarded it as ‘… accessible, conventional and very tuneful’. He continued: ‘I have written a great deal for adventurous amateurs and for children . I believe a composer ‘s primary duty is to be useful to the community he finds himself in. Performers should occasionally be stretched — but never broken.’

Robin Milford attended London ‘s Royal College of Music (1921-1926), studying composition with Holst and Vaughan Williams plus harmony and counterpoint under R O Morris. He married in 1927, and in 1929 met fellow composer and confidant Gerald Finzi , with whom he formed a lifelong friendship.

His keen sense of the melodic was tempered by the modal/pastoral instincts of his tutors (see above) in his short Prelude , a piano trio , Op 92 (circa 1948), perfect as an incisive encore .

Milford appears to have preferred morsel-sized structures. Tracks 16-18, 1956; Three Airs for Recorder and Piano: andantino , andante and allegro , take up a mere four minutes and 43 seconds.

His lengthiest movement (track 19, 1945 ) devoted to the Fantasia in B minor , Op 74 for String Quartet lasts all of 7’33”. Hard on its heels is Sonatina in F major for Recorder and piano, Op 107 (tracks 20-22, with a duration of 5’53”).

The final item from Robin, eldest son of Sir Humphrey Milford (founder of the Oxford University Press music department in 1923) is the fleeting Christmas Pastoral for recorder and piano Op 111.

Seventy-five-year-old Dick Blackford is represented by Pipings and Bowings ‘ longest single work (18’09”); his Concerto for Recorder and String Quartet (tracks 24-28).

Dick Blackford studied composition at Manchester University during the late 1950s. For over fifteen years he was Head of Music at Nunthorpe Grammar School in York, after which he taught at York Sixth Form College . In 1995 , prompted by a desire to spend more time on composition he took early retirement. His works include pieces for brass and woodwind .

Blackford’s five-movement recorder and string quartet concerto is a work of consistent harmonic provenance and shapeliness, bookended with a calming ‘prelude’ and ‘postlude’. At times one is reminded of Holst and Peter Warlock (1894- 1930 ).

The second and fourth movements are effectively counterbalanced. Both are in lively , rhythmic dance mode yet separated by a somber, central Lento (1’50”) Scherzando / vivace and Tempo primo (2’16”).

Throughout the disc there’s lyrical balm to spare; truly a panacea for the stressed or troubled in spirit . Restful indeed.

—Howard Smith