Oxford Times

The composer John Veale had Oxford in his blood, and lived locally for much of his life. Beginning his education at the Dragon School, he read Modern History at Corpus Christi College. But a musical bug was biting, and he began to take composition lessons from distinguished Oxford University lecturer Egon Wellesz, and from church organist Sir Thomas Armstrong, who conducted the Oxford Orchestral Society in Veale’s first performance work, Symphonic Study, in 1946.

He was considerably interested in the cinema, writing film music and serving for many years as a highly respected film critic of the Oxford Mail. Veale died in 2006, having also waged a successful, non-musical battle against intrusive flashing lights installed on the Beckley transmitter mast.

Nowadays Veale’s music is little performed so a new CD (Metier msv 28520) of three of his chamber works is most welcome. His String Quartet was first performed professionally in Oxford in 1953, and then not heard again until 2008, when it was successfully revived by the Adderbury Ensemble, who play it on this CD.

Following an opening sense of foreboding, a feeling of yearning prevails through the first two movements, while the third and final movement is more optimistic. Expressive interplay between the four instruments is everywhere apparent, as is the use of differing rhythms. Judiciously placed tunes sometimes emerge, like flowers popping up in a garden. There is perhaps a nod towards Shostakovich, but the style is very much Veale’s own.

Impromptu for Solo Recorder, with its impression of a skylark singing at full throttle, is an amazing demonstration of the recorder’s versatility (here performed by John Turner). The third Veale work on the CD, Triptych for recorder and guitar, takes you on a high speed emotional journey, ending in a jaunty waltz.

The CD also includes three works by the Scottish composer Robert Crawford, which fit well with the Veale pieces. Expertly recorded, the Adderbury Ensemble plays with great commitment throughout.

—Giles Woodforde