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Three Premières

the latest concert of music by Julian Dawes


The variety of genres for which Julian Dawes has composed in recent years is impressive and refreshing, and the latest concert devoted to his works, at Lauderdale House, London UK, on Sunday 8 October 2006, featured three premières in three different instrumental combinations, including a substantial new violin sonata played by the gifted violinist Serena Leader with the distinguished accompanist Gordon Back.

Dawes' style displays echoes of mixed influences, the English pastoralism of Herbert Howells, his teacher, and Walton, for example, and the more biting European modernism of Shostakovich, Kurt Weill and even Stravinsky. This is especially evident in Dawes' extensive oeuvre of music for the stage, which includes officially recognised incidental music for Brecht's Caucasian Chalk Circle. It was the incidental music for another play, an adaptation of Kafka's The Trial by the Cherub Company in 2002, that formed the inspiration for the first of the premières, Nine Inventions for Alto Saxophone and Violin. These aphoristic miniatures, arranged in contrasting sequence, colourfully conveyed both lyricism and piquant wit, set in delightfully playful two part imitative counterpoint. The first spiky invention gave way to a lyrical movement, then a waltz and a paired slow and fast movement. A sibling duo of Joe and Serena Leader brought out the swapping of lines and voices with well-matched tone and incisiveness, especially in the sixth and seventh inventions, both bluesy and jazzy, contrasting with the alternations of spiky and smooth inventions that culminate in a calm and plangent mood.

The Four Reflections on Psalm 134 for piano duet, the most recent of Dawes' premières, was composed for the distinguished musicologist, composer and pianist Alex Knapp on the occasion of his retirement from his position as Research Fellow in Jewish Music at SOAS, University of London, and it was performed by composer and dedicatee with poise and aplomb. The piece is full of interest, each movement a response to a verse from the Psalm. The first two were imbued with poignant dissonance, with well-meshed textures, suggestive of Messiaen. The expressive heart was the third movement, a moving 'song without words', echoing 'The Lord is nigh unto them that are of broken heart', while the final movement built gradually to a mood of affirmation.

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Copyright © 12 October 2006 Malcolm Miller, London UK


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