Some fine light music and other works that are are much, much more.
WRIGHT Spring Overture.1 A Little Light Music2. Threnody1. Searching2,4. Idyll.3 Divertimento for Treble Recorder and StringsRead more class="SUPER12b">3. Capriccio Burlesque2 • 1Barry Wordsworth, 2Gavin Sutherland, cond; 1,2Royal Ballet Sinfonia; 3Christopher Wright, cond; Manchester Sinfonia; 4Maxine Spiers (eh); 5JohnTurner (rec) • DUTTON EPOCH CDLX 7240 (64:11)
The British still have a viable mainstream tradition of composers writing intelligent and seriously intended music in an unabashedly tonal idiom using time-honored forms. (In our own country, due to the lockstep provincialism of our bicoastal critical intelligentsia, those of a similar persuasion are usually limited to the otherwise fruitful field of midwestern band repertoire). In England veteran composers such as John Gardner and Anthony Hedges—together with younger men such as David Lyon, Christopher Doyle, and Christopher Gunning—are keeping alive the English “pastoral” tradition. Another Christopher—Christopher Wright (b. 1954)—is a significant exemplar of this valuable school.
Anyone making the assumption (as did this reviewer at first) that Wright is just another specialist in “British Light” would be sadly mistaken, in spite of the title of his suite for strings on this program. Although all of the music here employs relatively small or modest forms, its content manages to plumb considerable emotional depths. And, judging from the composer’s own annotations, this music—all produced during the past decade—is very carefully and, in many instances, intricately conceived and worked out.
The opening piece, a vigorous Spring Overture for full orchestra, is perhaps a bit misleading in its brash optimism as to the tone of the bulk of the program, because it is followed by the longest (quarter-hour) work, a four-movement Little Light Music for String Orchestra, which is “little” only in its relatively short span and “light” merely in its meters and textures, but constitutes considerably more than a generic collection of good tunes and well-rounded cadences.
The heart of this program lies in a sequence of three roughly 10-minute pieces—Threnody for orchestra; Searching for English horn and strings; and Idyll for string orchestra—which all strike notes of intensity and inwardness seldom if ever encountered in “light” music. Even the Divertimento for Treble Recorder and Strings has passages of ruminative and expressive subtlety belied by its title. And the five-minute Capriccio Burlesqe embodies a three-part structure of considerable complexity.
No, this student of Richard Arnell is no journeyman purveyor of shallow good-natured entertainment music, even though one senses he would have no difficulty operating on this level too if called upon. This lovely disc offers an unexpectedly varied and multilayered portrait of a composer with something to say and all the communicative skills for getting his points across. I hope to be hearing more of his music in the future.
Christopher Wright here presents his calling card as a composer for the orchestra. His chamber and human voice aspects can be sampled on a Merlin Classics disc MRFD070914 – also reviewed
Dutton have done him proud both as to documentation and in providing a generous selection from his catalogue. His
A Spring Overture - a modesty there - bustles yet is shot through with silverpoints and the gleam of crystal. It was inspired by Walton's
Portsmouth Point but also seems to reference the open-air Copland of the
Outdoor Overture. The four movement
A Little Light Music acts the part with singing energy and moody inwardness. It references the great English string tradition from Elgar to Parry to Purcell to Vaughan Williams and Tippett. It's a luminous work full of inventive touches to tickle and flatter the ear. The
Threnody for orchestra was one of three works written circa 2002. All were affected by the composer coming to terms with his mother's death. The other two are the
Four Meditations on the Merlin disc and
In Memoriam for chorus and orchestra – which I have not heard but would like to. The
Threnody is by no means all sorrow. There is anger here too of the sort that bellows out in the Finzi Cello Concerto tuttis and there’s considerable eloquence too. It's a very powerful and deeply moving work. As Wordsworth said - and Finzi through Wordsworth – the
Threnody speaks of "thoughts too deep for tears". The music is broadly within the ‘church’ of Howells and Hadley. My attention was held throughout.
Searching for cor anglais and strings explores another potent theme for modern times: the composer addresses a world bereft of stillness and security in which activity blots out reality and travel fills the need for escape from self. The sorrowing cor anglais meanders and reflects until the music sinks into a querulous rest. The final pages have the gleam of the violins fading … fading. The
Idyll for small orchestra is the third of three ten minute orchestral essays. It is the most strongly keyed into the English musical tradition with a distinct Finzian mien redolent somewhat of the
Severn Rhapsody. The
Divertimento throws aside drowsy pastoral visions with bubbling and witty playing of that one man dynamo of the British recorder repertoire John Turner. It's a wonderfully vivacious work in three sections laid out as a single track. The
Capriccio Burlesque for strings takes us back to the bustling world of
A Little Light Music and
ASpring Overture. It's again in the grand English tradition yet adds valuably to it rather than being in thrall to its greatest monuments.
The disc is well documented and very attentively recorded.
I hope there will be more from Christopher wright. For now what we have here speaks from lush English pastures - landscapes and, more to the point, mindscapes. There is nothing wrong with light music and some of these works fit that label but other things such as
Searching and the
Threnody are much, much more.
Spring Overture, for orchestraby Christopher Wright Conductor:
Period: Contemporary Written: 2007 Date of Recording: 07/09/2007 Venue: Angel Studios, London, England Length: 4 Minutes 51 Secs.
Idyll, for Small Orchestraby Christopher Wright Conductor:
Period: Contemporary Written: 2000 Date of Recording: 01/19/2009 Venue: St. Thomas' Church, Stockport, Greater M Length: 9 Minutes 24 Secs.
Capriccio Burlesque, for string orchestraby Christopher Wright Conductor:
Period: Contemporary Written: 2003 Date of Recording: 03/15/2007 Venue: Angel Studios, London, England Length: 5 Minutes 2 Secs.