Notes and Editorial Reviews
Three forgotten Britons profiled in varied ensemble creations. This recital brings together a sequence of 10 brief works by three British composers, in music above all designed to please rather than challenge. Michael Hurd (1928-2006), after studying at Oxford, held various musical posts before deciding to divide his time between composing and writing books. For a time he studied with Lennox Berkeley but his music is markedly more tuneful than that of his mentor, always easily lyrical with most of his works here ending with a jauntily attractive finale. The three-movement Violin Sonata is the most substantial work, ending with the longest movement, a set of free variations, the concluding one the most light-hearted. The Five preludes for
piano are charming miniatures, nicely contrasted, leading to the Sonatina for recorder and piano, with a central songful slow movement and jaunty finale. Similar in layout but even more compact is the Three-Piece Suite for recorder and string quartet, dominated by the recorder. Robin Milford (1903-59) was the son of Sir Humphrey Milford, founder of the music department of Oxford University Press. He studied at the Royal College of Music under Holst and Vaughan Williams, and became a close friend of Gerald Finzi. Many of his works were designed for children either to play or hear, and with his connections his music was regularly published by OUP. Yet he suffered from depression and the death of his only son along with the remaindering of all his published music led him to commit suicide.
The immediate attractiveness of most of the works bears out their aptness for children, through the Fantasia for string quartet (1946) is an exception, a deeply felt work, just over seven minutes long, composed as a memorial on the death of his mother. That he could write such a carefree work as his three Airs for recorder and piano not long before his suicide seems in total contrast to his depressive temperament, as do the other two works for recorder, the Sonatina and Christmas Pastoral, also written not long before his death. The final work on the disc, the Concerto for recorder and string quartet by Richard (here described as Dick) Blackford (b1936), is in effect a three-movement work framed by a brief Prelude and Postlude. Manchester-trained, Blackford has spent most of his career teaching, contributing music when projects for his pupils demanded it. The Concerto has a mysterious slow movement with the central scherzando section, leading to a dazzling finale full of virtuoso fireworks before the measured Postlude.
Performances are first-rate from the soloists, notably the recorder player John Turner, who displays astonishing feats of tonguing in fast passages, as well as from the string quartet of the Manchester Chamber Ensemble, led by Richard Howarth. Not surprisingly, the sound tends to favour the recorder.
-- Edward Greenfield, Gramophone
Michael Hurd’s chamber music is very approachable indeed. The Violin Sonata heads a quartet of works written for small forces and for solo piano. None proves less then engaging and enjoyable. Written in 1979 and revised six years later it’s actually, at only thirteen or so minutes, his most extensive chamber work. It’s got a lyrical,
Les Six sort of appeal, and contains a very brief but ardent slow movement, topped by a finale of charming and light hearted variations; slightly folksy too. The Five Preludes, for piano, are compact and valuable. They range from a quite austere Invention, to a laid-back waltz, and include an ascending and descending triadic chorale.
By comparison the Sonatina for recorder and piano is an early work, written in 1964 and revised in 2002. Maybe it reflects some of the influence of Lennox Berkeley, and there’s warm melodic appeal throughout. The slow movement is especially lovely, and John Turner turns to the descant recorder for the vitality-plus finale. Turner does the honours for Hurd’s last work, the 2004
Three-Piece Suite (nice title) for recorder and string quartet. It shows no diminution in communicative qualities, or in terms of lyricism and wit, not least in the gawky dance finale.
Robin Milford is represented by a quintet of works. The Prelude was written for Vaughan Williams’s 80
th birthday (Milford, who committed suicide, outlived the much older man by only a year). The
Three Airs are light recorder and piano pieces with strong baroque and folk infusions, but the Fantasia for quartet, written in 1945, has stronger allegiances, its seven minute length proving quite harmonically varied within its compass; an expressive, highly attractive, indeed moving little work. Milford’s Sonatina for recorder and piano has some ingenious and attractive dances – all brisk – and the
Christmas Pastoral is a two-minute charmer.
The odd-man-out is Dick Blackford, born in 1936 and still very much with us. His Concerto for recorder and string quartet is a buoyant, uplifting experience – totally unpretentious but well crafted for the forces. It too has strong baroque cadences, and mines a rich lyrical seam. The third and fourth movements are the longest – the latter is an exciting
Allegro vivace – but things come together in the Lento postlude with its reflective nostalgia and the return of baroque motifs to complete the circle.
The recordings and performances are excellent. Those fond of the pastoral-dance-baroque patterns in British music will enjoy this selection.
-- Jonathan Woolf, MusicWeb International
Works on This Recording
Sonata for Violin and Piano by Michael Hurd
Richard Howarth (Violin),
Peter Lawson (Piano)
Manchester Chamber Ensemble
Christmas Pastoral, Op. 111 by Robin Milford
John Turner (Recorder),
Peter Lawson (Piano)
Manchester Chamber Ensemble
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