<< -- 2 -- Bill Newman FOUR IS HARDLY A CROWD
I wonder how many concert attenders know about the profusion of keyboard
works by Czech composers like Smetana and Dvorák? If you collect
commercial CDs on Supraphon, Panton or any of the other sought-after labels
that litter the record stores of Prague or Brno, you will know of the recordings
by Firkusny, Moravec, Kvapil, Repkova and the like.
Sonata in one movement by Bedrich Smetana, with its declamatory
and celebratory phrases spanning the octave, reminded me of that highly
colourful, rather splendid painting in Prague's Historic Museum of the composer
playing the pianoforte (in the background) at some State function to an
audience of mostly pretty, gorgeously-dressed ladies (in the foreground).
His music suggests better, prouder and peaceful days when the Czech peoples
were free of invaders with their undesirable political conversions to a
life of selfishness and evil intentions. The extended, lyrical closing passages
expressed a love for one's country.
Grimoire is by Scotland's leading living composer, James Wilson.
Presumably he took up the reins where Robin Orr left off! Wilson recently
celebrated his eightieth birthday, and the title derives from a Book of
Spells, extending its scope from London to Dublin. Weird harmonies combine
and merge with other startling ideas and phrase offshoots.
I take it that the composers whose works followed were all English. Richard
Deering confined his comments to the music. Stanley Glasser's Keyboard
Doubles and its three movements required elucidation. Beadwork
and its inlaid decorative strands reflected a personal study in the music's
complicated makeup and diverse development. Harmonically, it reminded me
of André Caplet's Masque of the Red Death after Edgar Allan
Poe, but it may have come about through a course of teaching in chromatic
colourings. Call and Response is full of dance-like syncopations
similar to the jazz-like tones of a xylophone orchestra. Like the recurring
promenades in Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, the piece provides
the appropriate cues for the group's forty fingers. Despite allegiances
to Cyril Scott and Arthur Benjamin, I found quotes of West Indian calypso
with the addition of whistle noises, maracas and shakers, unnecessary and
Similarly, Novÿ Rok -- a Toccata for Eight Hands by Rupert
Bond -- is something of a novelty piece with its racy character and spirited
off-beats. It has little musical substance. Bond was staying in Prague when
he composed it, and saw it as the beginning of the New Century. Hard lines!
Copyright © 11 February 2003
Bill Newman, Edgware, UK