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Celtic Twilight - Christopher Ball / Gould, Ball, Emerald Concert Orchestra

Ball / Gould / Craven / Emerald Concert Orch
Release Date: 07/28/2009 
Label:  Omnibus Classics   Catalog #: 5003  
Composer:  Christopher Ball
Performer:  Thomas GouldCelia BirkenshawPaul Arden-TaylorLeslie Craven
Conductor:  Christopher Ball
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Emerald Concert Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

BALL Violin Concerto. 1 5 Bagatelles. 2 From the Hebrides. 3 Celtic Twilight 4 Christopher Ball, cond; Thomas Gould (vn); 1,4 Paul Arden-Taylor (ob, 2,3 Eh, 3 rcr 3 ); Read more Leslie Craven (cl); 2,4 Celia Birkinshaw (bn); 2 Emerald Concert O OMNIBUS 5003 (74:40)

Christopher Ball is a new name to me, though he obviously has been around for quite some time (b. 1936). This multitalented Englishman has worn at least six musical hats in his 73 years. He began as a clarinetist and played often as a freelancer with Barbirolli’s Hallé Orchestra. Next came conducting, including a stint as one of the Royal Ballet’s conductors both in London and on tour. In the early 1970s, he became fascinated with the nascent early music revival and learned the recorder. The 1980s were spent largely as an arranger. Finally he turned his attention to serious composition (there had been a few light pieces along the way) with his full-length (25 minutes) Recorder Concerto in 1995. Since then he has produced six more concertos, each for a different instrument. Ball is also a publisher, a renowned photographer, and a teacher of clarinet and recorder at the Royal Academy of Music.

The 36-minute Violin Concerto opens with sinuously intertwining woodwinds evoking the English musical landscapes of Bax, Butterworth, Delius, and especially Vaughan Williams. The music is immediately appealing with its tenderly nostalgic themes and gentle tone. Ball’s command of orchestral color and the expert interaction between orchestra and soloist reveal him to be a composer of more than average talent. The slow movement is even more deeply imbued with the temper of the English countryside. The finale unequivocally evokes the world of folk dance, though at 15 minutes it rather outstays its welcome. While there may be just a few too many obviously derivative elements here (Malcolm Arnold, Vaughan Williams, Harry Potter film scores), there is no denying that Ball does have something to say and he says it very well. The music falls gratefully on the ear and will undoubtedly prove eminently pleasing to anyone seeking a contemporary concerto that speaks the language of nearly a century ago. Indeed, it may well be the most earnestly lyrical violin concerto composed since Elgar’s.

I would gladly go hear the English violinist Thomas Gould play almost anything anywhere. Ball personally chose him to introduce his new Violin Concerto in 2008, and he chose wisely. Rarely have I heard a violinist of Gould’s generation (he was born in 1983) with the range of tasteful expression, the enormous color palette, and the ability to say something with every note. His sound has a glow such as one experiences in the soft light of a summer evening.

The Five Bagatelles for oboe, clarinet, and bassoon are appropriately titled: each is a two- or three-minute gem of quirky character featuring unexpected twists and turns of harmony, melody, or rhythm. Great fun. Folk song also infuses From the Hebrides , which the composer, in his concise but informative notes, tells us was inspired by folk songs from the region, though the tunes are all his own. The gentle melodies are distributed among three instruments—oboe, English horn, and recorder—all played by a single musician who is kept busy switching instruments within each of the five movements. Celtic Twilight is presented last but has the most evocative label and thus gives the disc its title. This is another pastoral miniature in the best tradition of the English landscapists, a sort of latter-day version of Vaughan Williams’s Lark Ascending , with the addition of a prominent clarinet part.

An air of purity and spaciousness pervades the recording acoustic, lending a further measure of pleasure to this enjoyable program of four world premiere recordings.

FANFARE: Robert Markow
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Works on This Recording

Concerto for Violin by Christopher Ball
Performer:  Thomas Gould (Violin)
Conductor:  Christopher Ball
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Emerald Concert Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Bagatelles (5) for Wind Trio by Christopher Ball
Performer:  Celia Birkenshaw (Bassoon), Paul Arden-Taylor (Oboe), Leslie Craven (Clarinet)
From the Hebrides by Christopher Ball
Performer:  Paul Arden-Taylor (Oboe)
Conductor:  Christopher Ball
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Emerald Concert Orchestra
Celtic Twilight by Christopher Ball
Performer:  Paul Arden-Taylor (Oboe)
Conductor:  Christopher Ball
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Emerald Concert Orchestra

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