Notes and Editorial Reviews
“A Gallery of Cats.”
“In Outlaw Country”
Philip Spratley, cond; Barry Wordsworth, cond;
Linda Merrick (cl);
John Turner (rec); Eira Lynn Jones (hp);
Royal Ballet Snf;
TOCCATA 88 (72:00)
If you can’t get enough of the English folk-song/pastoral schools, here’s another hour and more of music you’ve never heard, but which you’re bound to enjoy. Philip Spratley’s advantage is that, unlike many Brits, he can write lively movements with proper, directed rhythmic propulsion. On the Toccata Web site (www.toccataclassics.com), try sampling the last track first, the Finale from “In Outlaw Country.” Spratley calls it an English salterello, and it is, filled with life and optimism. More of the same in the “Rigadoon” ending of the Recorder Concertino, and at the vigorous conclusion of “Byard’s Leap.” And even more in the last movement of the Sinfonietta (for strings and timpani), where the rhythms cut loose in engaging, and not very British fashion.
There are also plenty of attractive movements here at the pastoral walking pace, and as you’d expect, some heartfelt slow sections. “In Outlaw Country” contains two of them, a brief Notturno with some beautiful interplay between harp and cellos, and a gentle Lullaby. Spratley wrote it first in 1971, recasting it many years later. He was born in the English Midlands in 1942, and was rescued from non-musical life by a scholarship to the Royal College in Manchester. He’s worked as a teacher and as a church musician, and has collected and written about English folk materials. There are operas, a violin concerto, and many other short works. Like many good British composers, he’s worked hard and at a high level, but in modest, local environments; so well done, Toccata, for making his music available to the rest of us in such a winning way.
I don’t think the opening Sinfonietta works all the way through, but all the other pieces hit the spot, with excellent playing and high production values. The many brief movements always leave you wanting more. Recommended as music that’s enjoyable right away, particularly that heartfelt Notturno. “In Outlaw Country” should have come first on the disc; it has strong appeal of both the melodic and toe tapping varieties.
FANFARE: Paul Ingram