SPRATLEY Cargoes. A Helpston Fantasia. Symphony No. 3 “Sinfonia Pascale” • Dmitry Vasiliev, cond; Siberian SO • TOCCATA 0194 (75:44)
A previous disc from Toccata Classics explored Philip Spratley’s music for strings and was reviewed by Paul Ingram in Fanfare 33:2. Here is volume two, this time featuring music for full symphony orchestra. It provides an hour and a quarter’s delightful listening.Read more Spratley studied with Thomas Pitfield at what was then the Royal Manchester College of Music (now the Royal Northern College of Music).
Inspired by Masefield’s poem of the same title, Cargoes (2010–12) is described by the composer as “three songs without words.” The title of each movement is the first word or words of the relevant stanza of Masefield’s poem. The first movement, “Quinquerreme,” has a sort of Impressionism, yet is not particularly French (at least not to begin with). What emerges quickly is Spratley’s keen ear for orchestration and his ability to build truly lovely sonorities. The Impressionist aspect does in fact blossom into what sounds to me like a reminiscence of or reference to Debussy’s La mer; counterpointing this is the characteristically English breadth, and accent, to some of the long-breathed melodies. The densely (but not over-) scored opening to the central panel (“Stately Spanish Galleon”) thins to the British pastoral that Ingram identified in the earlier review. There is some lovely woodwind playing here from the Siberian players, beautifully balanced in recording terms. Glowing string chords recall Vaughan Williams. The Finale, a brisk Allegro entitled “Dirty British Coaster,” includes the rather nice touch of the sudden arrival of an orchestral piano.
There is not enough gap between Cargoes and the next piece, the “free rondo” A Helpston Fantasia (2010) on the disc for one to get one’s breath. A pity, but easily remedied if forewarned. Again there is a poetic inspiration. Helpson is a village (the notes tell us it used to be in Northamptonshire but since 1974 is in Cambridgeshire) which houses the John Clare Cottage and visitor centre. Spratley describes Clare (1793–1864) as Britain’s “finest nature-poet.” Clare also collected English folk materials. Spratley helpfully enumerates the folk tunes he used in his booklet notes. Intriguingly, this recording also represents the work’s first performance. The piece itself is intriguing: After the opening’s nice feeling of stately pageantry, the material becomes remarkably varied, yet somehow manages to operate under an overarching umbrella of inevitability, perhaps because of the underlying consistency of Spratley’s compositional language. Some passages are reminiscent of Holst’s suites for wind band. If there is a criticism of the performance, it is that the horn playing comes across as somewhat uncontrolled in the solos, but this remains a fascinating piece.
The Third Symphony (2009) moves into different, altogether more rugged, territory. The opening is heavy, reminiscent perhaps of some early 20th-century Russian symphonists; in the more contrastive material of this first movement, though, the English Pastoralists return. It is a most fetching mix that Spratley handles well. There is, incidentally, some material here from a youthful essay in this genre by the composer. The inspiration comes from a variety of sources, but most poignantly from a visit to Jerusalem in 1967, when Spratley was exposed to the work of the architect Antonio Barliuzzi (1884–1960) and the artist Duilio Cembellotti (1876–1966), whose church windows show the events around the scourging of Jesus. The central movement, entitled “Nocturne,” includes a lively Allegretto sandwiched between two lyrical Adagios and is beautifully managed here, particularly the final descent into silence. The Finale initially quotes from the first movement before embarking on the concerns of its title, “Chaconny” (which title was chosen for its echoes of Purcell). Something of the English grandeur of old heard in A Helpston Fantasia is also encountered here. Spratley’s construction and imagination are remarkable, and the performance is virtuosic (it is an understated virtuoso element, true, but listen carefully and one can hear just how challenging Spratley’s score is). The climax is highly effective and once more provides an example of expert scoring: Even at higher dynamic levels, several lines can happily coexist without any muddying.
Again, this recording is also a first performance. Toccata Classics once more deserves our gratitude for bringing a most worthwhile composer to our attention. This reviewer, a hardened Modernist, found great joy here.
Cargoesby Philip Spratley Conductor:
Siberian Symphony Orchestra
A Helpston Fantasiaby Philip Spratley Conductor:
Siberian Symphony Orchestra
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
Very EnglishJuly 3, 2014By W. Murphy (Sacramento, CA)See All My Reviews"Enjoyable film-music-style pictorialism with strong 20th-century English conservative harmonic flavor. Nice tunes. Second album in a series; good enough that I will investigate the first."Report Abuse