The Cornish composer Judith Bailey is succinct in her music. You would know that if she ever wrote a sixty minute symphony every note would count. There would be no ullage. Going by these works she is also of a serious bent yet with a light heart.
The String Quartet is the earliest work here – some twenty years old. It’s a densely grave weave of sound with each line of singing intensity occasionally suggesting early Tippett. The effect is husky and warm and the redolences are of a consort of viols. This is relieved by a pizzicato episode in the finale.
It was commissioned by the Davey String Quartet, following the death of the composer’s mother in 1986. Their first performance took place in Kentish Town, London on instruments which were all made by luthiers. The three movements are headed by literary quotations: I. “Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent” (from The Bridge of Love ; an Anthology of Hope , collected by Elizabeth Basset); II. “We are what suns and winds and waters make us” (W.S. Landor); III. Those who spread their sails in the right way to the winds of the earth will always find themselves borne by a current towards the open seas (Teilhard de Chardin). The latter author is of interest given the Rubbra connection mentioned later. Rubbra’s Eighth Symphony is entitled Hommage à Teilhard de Chardin .
The 1993 Clarinet Quintet was also written for the Daveys and strikes me as more of a suite of three contrasted movements. The first has the rearing strength of the Bax and Alwyn clarinet sonatas. The second laps sweetly and the finale is a woozy-zany song. It’s very attractive and should find a ready place in chamber recitals.
From the same year comes the carillon-fractured Towers of San Gimignano . It traces its origins from the composer’s visit to Tuscany in 1993. The three segments are: 1. The Towers of San Gimignano: “There are fourteen of them, built in rivalry by warlike nobles in Mediæval times. As one approaches the hill-top city of San Gimignano the towers stand majestically silhouetted against the skyline.” 2. Frescoes and 3. Piazza: “A sunny square thronging with people. A man is singing – it echoes through the arches and towers beyond. The free three-notes repeated motif was made by bells heard on Easter Sunday morning. Bells are never far away in Italy.”
The work that is The Egloshayle Nightingale Trio is in four movements which look back to the string quartet but here the textures are more open and folksong invigorates and seduces the listener. The bluffer moments are offset by a heartfelt second movement. If the first and final movements do sport a phrase that recalls Yorkshire rather than Bodmin this remains a tender and vulnerable work. It was written for Tony Cox and his Mainly Baroque Trio based in Egloshayle in Cornwall. The Cornish folk-song The Sweet Nightingale is the basis of the work. It was premiered in South Harting, near Petersfield.
The Aquamarine Waltz is intended to have marine view connotations although it seemed more pastoral-homely to me. The two Microminiature pieces are each in three concise movements variously reflective-unrepentant and glintingly eager. The first and second movements of No. 2 recall the Quartet while the finale is more unbuttoned and carefree.
The Visions of Hildegard takes a fragment of a piece by Hildegard von Bingen and meditates upon it. The drone effect at 0.50 and other aspects later imply the medieval connection in a work that has a strongly serious bearing perhaps reminding the listener of Rubbra’s music for chamber orchestra. Light is in three movements. Again this is a gravely beautiful piece which should make it endearing to admirers of Rubbra’s chamber music. The four movements carry superscriptions from St John of the Cross, Browning, Bridges and Anon. The music and the words saturate each other in the crepuscular and the valedictory. Also we encounter a new mood in Silent Silver Lights – a flash of anger. This music has more angularity than you might have expected from the other works apart from The Towers of San Gimignano .
The Davey Ensemble are accorded a powerful close-up sound. There was only one momentary player slip which could have been edited out and that falls in the second movement of Light . It causes no harm to the progress of the music.
The presentation has something of the Dunelm design feel marking the recent transition of that label into the Divine Arts Metier line. I am sure that Judith Bailey must be grateful to Patrick Waller who made this album happen and to the Davey Ensemble whose expertise and caring dedication has released this music to the listening world.
I hope that this disc, quite apart from its intrinsic pleasures, will be the harbinger of recordings of Bailey’s Concerto for Orchestra , Cliff Walk Symphony , the two numbered symphonies, the Clarinet Concerto and her other string quartet.
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