Notes and Editorial Reviews
Divertimento for Brass Quartet.
Theme and Variations for Brass Quartet.
Sonata for Brass Quintet
Philip Jones Br Ens; Norman del Mar, cond;
LYRITA 307 (62:55)
Nicholas Maw (b. 1935) wrote strong, post-Romantic, personal, expressive, and melodic music in England in the 1960s, when the done thing was to write like Boulez. If you enjoy Britten, Strauss, early Schoenberg, and Hindemith, or the work of high-class individualists like George Tsontakis, then early Maw should be to your taste. Most of his works from the 1960s were recorded by Decca, for their Argo label, soon after composition, and Lyrita (Nimbus) has chosen to reissue some of them spread across varied compilations. This is frustrating for Maw collectors, and Lyrita has also confirmed the bad news that there will be no reissue (from them) for the Argo recording of Maw’s strongest work of the period, the huge First Quartet.
The half-hour Sinfonia (1966, year of the Beatles’s
and England’s sole World Cup soccer triumph) sounds like Maw, whatever the influences (lots of Britten and Hindemith here). Maw’s melodies created a harmonic undertow which was all their own, a true eclectic synthesis. The result was decades ahead of the current vogue for eclecticism, and does not sound synthetic in the wrong sense. I love the sound of this music, and of the recording, and the passion of del Mar’s direction. The music’s own passions are intense, and like most English music of the time it can’t, with a straight face, “do” Classical drive or Baroque energy, in the fast music. Tippett half-succeeded in that, and Robert Simpson managed it in most of his works, though in a sexless way. The Vaughan Williams symphonic approach (narrative drive through melody, personality, and atmosphere) has had no worthy British successor. Maw certainly isn’t sexless (hear “Scenes and Arias” on Lyrita 267), but his work does not fly along unequivocally. He has no VW epic tunes, but Sinfonia is memorable for its slower atmospherics, perched somewhere between ecstasy and dread.
The rest of the CD is an entertaining brass recital, brilliantly played and beautifully recorded. John Gardner (b. 1917) is a neglected and prolific composer whose tuneful Theme and Variations is as witty and enjoyable as Malcolm Arnold’s. John Addison (1920–1998) wrote his Divertimento in the same year (1951), and it’s another likable tonal suite, as is the 1963 Sonata by Stephen Dodgson (b. 1924), which is in the form of an arch, like the Bartók Fifth Quartet, but completely unpretentious. These are very modest works, inconsequential even, but written against the established flow. They make another reminder that approachable music was not re-invented in the 1990s.
All these works were originally recorded under government sponsorship, an interesting thought. This very oddly compiled CD is nonetheless strongly recommended. The Lyrita Maw CDs are unlikely to be huge sellers, or to be around forever, and the LPs are hard to find, so snap up these reissues while you can.
FANFARE: Paul Ingram
Works on This Recording
Sinfonia by Nicholas Maw
Norman Del Mar
English Chamber Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1966; England
Sonata for Brass Quintet by Stephen Dodgson
Philip Jones Brass Ensemble
Period: 20th Century
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