Travelling with Time
Recent Music on Historical Themes
by Anthony Gilbert
Prima Facie PFCD041
Born in London, Anthony Gilbert has had a long career as a respected composer, and is well known to audiences around the world, from his early ensemble works, which drew attention to his individual voice, through to his violin concerto and the successful premiere of this by Anthony Marwood, the BBC Philharmonic, conducted by Rumon Gamba. So, we have a well established voice here, on the concert scene, with many works behind him. Well, this recording is actually a collection of fairly recent works, and for a wide variety of ensemble combinations, but all with one theme in common – historical themes. The recordings were each recorded in different venues too, so we also get a variety of acoustic possibilities. Anthony Gilbert has brought together these compositions, to try and show us, through his music, many conflicts, the persecutions, worldwide instability, which has occurred and still does, which is his response to all this. Using these thoughts as a basis for the collection, on this recording, he brings a variety of expressive works and a strong personal message at the same time. Taking us on a musical and deeply affecting, journey through history, and as his musical imagery is excellent, we too, are drawn into his world. The quality of the album, as always, is what you would expect from Prima Facie – excellent. From the informative booklet notes, by, I’m guessing, although it doesn’t actually confirm, by Gilbert himself, to the wonderful cover photograph of ’Tegg’s Nose’ an historic Viking settlement. Within the booklet, Gilbert explains the relationship behind the gathering of these works together, and includes poetry, etc, to show where his inspirations lay for each piece – definitely enlightening here.
The first piece, written in 2007, is a short work for voice and 9 instruments, and written as a belated gift for his composer friend Alison Cox. A beautiful entry of solo voice prepares the way for a nice syncopated ensemble to enter, before pulling back. Very imaginative use of the ensemble here – for listeners who like an interesting and colourful soundscape. Sometimes, accompanying , other times, almost in a musical discussion, whilst also shining as an ensemble, in it’s own short, instrumental breaks. The setting of words attributed to King Alfred, overall, produces a thoughtful atmospheric piece, reflecting the mythical Norse ash tree. Also, reading the words whilst listening is actually a bit of a delight, very pleasurable indeed, and you’re left feeling a total awareness of the composers thoughts here. Performed by Seo Jin Lee (soprano); with the Purcell School Ensemble, conducted by Edward Longstaff.
Commissioned by pianist Kate Dixon, the work, written in 2005, comprises 3 great, short pieces, but very to the point and concise, for solo piano, which are here wonderfully performed by Ian Buckle. Each piece is given the title of a butterfly, hence the titles, ‘Gavarnie’, ‘Manto ringlet’ and ‘Mountain small white – the composer even invites the pianist to imagine sending home pictures of these slightly delicate, yet beautiful creatures, whilst performing, thereby ‘feeling’ the true creative spirit behind them. True piano miniatures, and I feel they should certainly find a place in many a pianist’s piano stool/ repertoire. Performed by Ian Buckle.
Written in 2007, for soprano, recorder, oboe, violin and cello – a nice ensemble combination indeed – are two songs, setting the poetry of Charles Baudelaire and Marcel Proust. There are some really stunning sounds in this piece too, as the voice and ensemble act as one throughout these two songs. I particular like the composers use of recorders here, a much under used instrumental colour in contemporary music, I feel. Also, add to this some beautiful oboe melodic lines – yeah, really excellent stuff. Performed by Lesley-Jane Rogers (soprano); John Turner (recorders); Richard Simpson (oboe); Richard Howarth (violin); and Jonathan Price (cello).
Piano Sonata 3
Originally conceived by the composer as early as 1984, the work was only fully written down and finished in 2007 – a long gestation period. There is a beautiful programme note for this work in the booklet, which perfectly heightens our auditory response to the composers tonal imagination. At 16 minutes long, the piano takes us along on a journey through six variations, which are based on the initial opening musical statements – birdsong melodic ideas, alongside a choral phrase of exquisiteness – not sure if thats the correct term, but suits my thoughts here. A bird like theme indeed draws our attention and makes us sit up, spelling out, letting us know this is a major work, right from the start. The birdsong is actually very important, as it shows the composers appreciation and admiration for his friend and colleague David Lumsdaine. Performed by Richard Casey.
Another Dream Carousel
A stunning delight here, and being a an absolute lover of string sounds, how great is this next piece. Well, it absolutely is, from the first pulsating basses, to the very end. Written in 2000, it is split into 3 seperate sections , and the music certainly shows the composer at the height of his craftmanship. Great themes, and the ensemble are both exciting and expressive, in equal measure – a wonderful piece. Performed by Northern Chamber Orchestra, directed, as always with great insight and musical understanding of the composer’s ideal, by Nicholas ward.
Written for cello and piano, the composer takes into his world of descriptive story telling again, showing the two players characters to their full. Like a miniature drama with music, not words, it excists for me without the need for explanation, although the notes do describe in full for us the idea behind this work and you should read them as well. A very tight and expressive duo, producing an amazing insight into Gilbert’s imaginative soundscape – absorb, feel and enjoy this. Performed by Simon Turner (cello) and Richard Casey (piano).
String Quartet no.3
With a subtitle of ’super Hoqueto ‘David’ this piece was written in 1987. As you can imagine, with a combination of a true creative voice as Gilbert’s, with some great ensemble writing and such an established quartet as these, who give a terrific performance of insight and understanding, with all the palette colours of the composer – great listening experience! Performed by the Bingham Quartet.
So, a terrific recording from beginning to end, showing not only the composers thoughts, and reflections on human conflicts/persecutions, but also, his his wonderful diversity of compositional thought. Available from Prima Facie records. Also, don’t forget to check Anthony Gilbert’s website either, where you’ll get a lot more information.