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<<  -- 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.

Richard Deering
Richard Deering

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 disturbing.

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!

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Copyright © 11 February 2003 Bill Newman, Edgware, UK


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