I originally intended to include some brief words about this recording in Download News as a pendant to John France’s review. However I couldn’t let it go at that, if only for the sake of congratulating Divine Art yet again on rescuing a composer whose music is so undeserving of neglect.
Why is David Ellis’s music less well-known than that of his contemporaries at the Manchester Royal College of Music, which he left laden with prizes: Harrison Birtwistle, John Ogdon, Peter Maxwell Davies, Elgar Howarth and Alexander Goehr? As far as I can judge from this recording, solely because he didn’t fit the orthodoxy of the late 1950s and 1960s. Apart from this typically enterprising release from Divine Art, I can locate only one other recording even partly including his music: three of his piano pieces feature on Prima Facie PFCD013. He’s not to be confused with John Ellis, whose music Divine Art have also recorded.
David Ellis’s music actually contains tunes, but that doesn’t mean that it sounds facile. The recording breaks us in gently with Vale Royal Suite , a times-of-day composition – as is Solus – composed for a Cheshire amateur string orchestra. The following Diversions , despite its easy-going title, is made of stronger stuff, as befits its commission, which was to mark Warrington’s connections with the nearby M6 motorway.
Concert Music is the earliest work here. Although it didn’t conform to the avant garde fashion of the time, it’s no pushover: the notes in the booklet speak of ‘neo-romantic tensions’ and it’s the tensions that predominate for much of the time. John France mentions Tippett, Leighton and Lennox Berkeley, but there’s also some of the same kind of thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears that I experience in Richard Strauss’s Metamorphosen .
September Threnody , written soon after the death of his wife, is the toughest nut to crack but also the most profound and most rewarding. It opens with a very brief exultation, as if recalling their happiness together, but grief bursts in soon after, alternating with wistfulness. The music doesn’t seek to batter the listener into depression and my overall response was very positive.
Though performed by a variety of orchestras on a number of different occasions over a period of forty years, playing and recording do full justice to Ellis’s music. This album deserves to receive the widest possible publicity in advancing the cause of this neglected composer. Now, perhaps, we can have more, including the other two pieces of the trilogy from which Celebration is taken.
The information in the booklet is short but to the point. There’s more about the composer at his website.