CD 1 is devoted to three works by Gordon Crosse all composed in 2009 and belonging to a recent period of renewed creativity after a break in composition of some eighteen years. Brief Encounter for oboe d’amore, recorder and strings takes its title from the Noel Coward film. As the composer notes, ‘it is all about farewells’ and the opening two-note descending figures for the two soloists sing a very audible and expressive ‘goodbye’. The entire work is a delicate and reflective reverie in ABA form, the outer sections, slow and sad, frames a more agitated episode. It is a beautiful work – a miniature tone poem capturing the many emotions of saying goodbye in music coloured by the contrasting timbres of the solo instruments.
Crosse’s viola concerto, though dating from 2009, makes use of motives sketched some years earlier and material from a discarded trumpet concerto of 1986. It is in three movements that basically follow a fast – slow – fast plan in an arch form. The title, Concerto for viola and strings with French horn, is important; though all the notes played by the horn are also present in the string parts, it is subtly scored for and its omission would be detrimental to the overall textures. The writing is supple and energetic in the quick movements, and expressively lyrical in the slow movement subtitled ‘Song’. This is a substantial and accomplished work made all the more satisfying by the carefully idiomatic writing for the viola’s characteristic brooding sonority.
The singing of Burns’s celebrated song by Stephanie Rose Irvine to her own accompaniment on clarsach was the inspiration for Crosse’s Fantasia on ‘Ca’ the Yowes’ and its scoring for flute or recorder (the latter in this recording), harp and strings. Though the first few notes of the melody gently unfold in the quiet opening, and pentatonic fragments of it infuse the entire work, it is heard in its entirety gently intoned on the recorder near the beginning, and again in a much more declamatory tutti restatement just before the close, which dies away in similar mood to the opening – an evocative and moving piece.
The second CD contains two concertos by Sir John Manduell. We have become accustomed to the use in contemporary recorder concertos of different sizes of instrument. It is perhaps a less exploited feature in flute concertos, but a specific element in the commission of this work requested it feature alto flute and piccolo in addition to the usual concert flute. This is reflected in the title ‘Flutes Concerto, for flautist, harp, strings and percussion’ which dates from 2000. However, the concert flute alone is the solo instrument in the opening movement Vivo – Lento, the music frequently alternating between these two tempi in lively passages coloured by the harp and delicate percussion, and lyrical sections enriched by dense string harmonies. The alto flute is the solo instrument in the second movement Adagio molto, its melody emerging from a mysterious string introduction with harp and percussion. At times the music becomes more animated, again underpinned by percussion, but the overall mood is one of calm. The finale, Allegro – allegretto – languid, features first piccolo, then alto flute, before the return of concert flute. It is rich and kaleidoscopic and makes use, as in previous movements, of flutter tonguing and harmonics – techniques that are as much a part of contemporary flute playing as they are of the recorder.
A discussion between the composer and oboist Richard Simpson in which he noted the apparent lack of a concerto for oboe and cor anglais, resulted in Manduell’s Double Concerto for oboe, cor anglais, strings and percussion of 2012. It is a substantial reworking of an earlier concerto for a Chinese flute and a form of single-stringed Chinese viola composed in 1985 – both works co-existing independently. The first movement Quasi adagio – allegro molto, after the slow introduction drives forward with motivic energy and makes considerable use of a colourful percussion section. The middle movement Adagio begins with a powerful string introduction before the soloists enter with a more reflective duet. Their dialogue continues above an atmospheric accompaniment of strings and percussion, the mood frequently changing as the movement progresses, but ending calmly and reflectively. The final Allegro vivo bursts immediately into life, and the constant rhythmic energy carries the music forward to an abrupt and decisive conclusion.
This is a very rewarding pair of discs featuring music that, whilst certainly contemporary in nature, is immediately accessible and of genuine appeal – another significant release from Metier.