These recordings were made in the presence of the composers so there is the implication of authenticity to add to the evidence of what we hear.
Crosse was born in Bury, Lancashire and studied with Petrassi and Wellesz. Recently Crosse’s works have included, following his remission from an extended silence, three more string quartets, an anthem for Blackburn Cathedral, a violin sonatina, a trio for oboe, violin and cello and a number of large orchestral works including those on an NMC CD: the Cello Concerto, Some Marches on A Ground and Memories of Morning (NMCD058).
Gordon Crosse wrote these three works in a flood of returning creativity in 2009. This was after some 18 years of largely not composing music. There were exceptions: for example in 1990 the Sea Psalms were premiered in Glasgow. Crosse pays tribute to recorder player par excellence , John Turner who has been a dynamo of activity and an agent provocateur for the instrument.
What we hear from Crosse on this disc differs in style from the one act opera Purgatory on Lyrita. We should not forget the other Lyrita of Ariadne and the much more accessible and major Three Choirs work: Changes . The latter lays a clearer if broken path for the present works which are yet more communicative. They sing to the ear in a way that perhaps Crosse did before but for which some considerable labour was then necessary by the listener.
Brief Encounter was written at the suggestion of John Turner. The whole piece was evolved in Crosse’s head on a drive back to Windermere with thoughts of Carnforth station – the site of the Trevor Howard/Celia Johnson film, Brief Encounter . The music is a melancholy soliloquy in desolation. The chill of moorland, the scent of heather and the call of curlew and pewit in the breeze are threaded through stern music for strings: a touch of Britten and an infusion of Bartók. It all ends in a distant shimmer that tails off into silence.
The Viola Concerto was written without the excuse of commission or soloist. It emerged from a trumpet concerto dating from 1988 which Crosse considered a write-off. Add to this ‘wreckage’ some ideas jotted down between 1990 and 2008. The enclosing movements are pleasingly brisk and thrummingly brusque with the finale referencing the Fate motif from Beethoven 5. They bookend a meditative Song – marked lento semplice . The soloists and orchestra are gutsily recorded, as applies to all this music. Crosse’s writing is intensely inventive – witness the self-effacing final bars. There is a lot going on in this work.
The Ca The Yowes Fantasia was again written with neither commission nor soloists in mind. It is dedicated to a very young player of the clàrsach – the Gaelic or Celtic harp – and was inspired by hearing her singing songs to her own accompaniment. Again the music carries the atmosphere of summer moorlands with uncanny buzzing sounds from the recorder mixed in with its more accustomed melodiously expressive nature. The harp is prominently placed in the sound picture. The Manchester Sinfonia manage some fairly testing string writing in great style. The Fantasia closes in restful calm.
The Manduell disc offers up two beefy works, each in three movements. The Flutes Concerto was a commission from Kent Nagano and the Berkeley Symphony. The soloist at the US and UK premières was Vincent Lucas, solo principal at the Orchestre de Paris. Lucas is honoured with the dedication. ‘Flutes’ – why? – because the soloist uses the standard concert flute, the piccolo and the alto flute. There are also significant roles for harp and two percussionists. It opens with a Vivo that, after a reticent prelude, launches out into jangling and kinetic activity decorated with lots of percussion punctuation. The solo line could be Malcolm Arnold or Nielsen but once or twice it is as if filtered through Messiaen. The melody content is alive with latent and actual impudence – a spirited jackanapes for sure. After a chaste, somnolent and icy Quasi adagio comes an often stiffly articulated Allegro finale. It has a sinister foreword that evokes drifts of autumn leaves on the move. Whatever energy it had is quickly dissipated and the soloist falls back into silent languor.
The Manduell Double Concerto was originally (1985) a BBC commission for the Cardiff Festival. At that stage it was for orchestra with two Chinese instruments: the dizi (a kind of flute) and the erhu (a single stringed viola). As a result of a conversation with Richard Simpson, principal oboe of the BBCSO, Manduell rewrote the work for oboe and cor anglais. The two related instruments tangily complement each other. Like the Flutes Concerto this work has its chilly and chaste heart as in the central movement with its side-drum evocative of Nielsen 5. The finale sets the two wind instruments against a very active percussion array. This is a work in which moods can and do change on a sixpence. The two instruments march off at the end arm in arm united against a belligerent orchestra and not tired by their efforts throughout.
Manduell was born in Johannesburg but educated in England. He studied at the RAM with Alwyn and Berkeley. His career involved, amongst many other academic positions, various music management posts with the BBC. His brief catalogue includes a string quartet, Vistas which is a large orchestral work written for the Hallé, a string nonet, Diversions for chamber orchestra as well as various songs.
So there you have it: a substantial collection of concertante works by two British composers somewhat at the periphery of the public’s attention. Much to stimulate among this temperate, argumentative and atmospheric music.