Murray McLachlan’s recent multi-volume recordings of music by Eric Chisholm for Dunelm have been a major milestone. Here, he presents a disc entitled ‘Aspirations’, music by Marcus Blunt. Born in 1947 in Birmingham, Blunt settled in Scotland in 1990 in order to find conducive surroundings for composition.
The sonatas are given in reverse order. The Third Sonata, The Life Force (1988, revised 1994) is a mere seven minutes long. Inspired by Shaw’s Man and Superman , its sense of chromatic sweep seems to reflect the influence of mid-period Scriabin, and occasionally Wagner, while also finding respite in a more free-flow momentum that occasionally moves close to jazz. It is a lovely work, finely constructed and superbly played by McLachlan. The Second Sonata (1977, revised 1988) begins with a dark dirge (entitled ‘Elegy’); the central scherzo is elusive and shadowy before the serious, turbulent finale rounds off this disturbing work. The two movements of the First Sonata (1971/2, revised 1997) flow into one another. Although 12-note techniques have influenced the process here, there is a distinct bias towards the pitch-class A, which here tends to imply a tonality. The second movement, Variations (on a 13-note theme), represents a fantastical yet powerful utterance.
Interestingly, the first of the Seven Preludes (1967–79) was Blunt’s first work for piano. The composer freely admits the influence of Tippett in the counterpoint of this first piece; also included are a ‘Homage to Scarlatti’ (No. 4, 1969 – the homage is both structural and gestural and uses ‘diminishing interval chords’, a technique that recurs throughout later pieces) and two ‘Homages to Scriabin’ (the first of 1978 pays tribute to early, post-Chopin Scriabin, the second, 1979, to the mature period). The Iona Prelude (1982) is an atmosphere piece based entirely on one chord; its partner is a 40-second, cheeky Iona Caprice . The three Nocturnes are each beautiful and are each identifiably night music. They are Malta Nocturne (1987, written after a holiday to Malta), November Nocturne (with a theme derived from its dedicatee, Rupert Carrick) and Nocturne on the name FRAnk BayFoRD (capitals in Blunt’s titles refer to the musical derivations).
If the Prelude on a fugue theme by J. S. Bach is over almost before it begins, the final three fantasies are meatier stuff. The Fantasy on SCRiABin is Blunt’s first attempt to carve a piece from a name; luckily the five usable letters form a Scriabinesque sonority. The Fauré Fantasy was written for Kathryn Stott (one of the foremost interpreters of Fauré). The influence of Fauré’s famous Pavane is present; the powerful final fantasy was completed just before the present recording and takes the pianist’s name as generator.