Luke Whitlock is a UK-born composer (Exeter, 1978), studying at Darlington and at the Royal College of Music. He has been actively involved with BBC Radio 3 since 2007.
The Suite Antique (2011-12) was born of a move towards traditional dance forms in a bid to write music for ballet and dance. Whitlock refers to taking six traditional forms and embellishing or disrupting them, and it is this latter facet that gives the suite its interest. Much of the writing is charming and eminently approachable. The Sarabande, as it moves seamlessly on, begins to probe depths not usually associated with this stately dance. Most joy, perhaps, comes from the deliberately stumbling gait of the Gavotte (imagine Dad-dancing in the Baroque period) or the playful teasings of the Gigue. Duncan Honeybourne, who commissioned the piece and premiered it (in 2013 in Leominster) is a fine exponent, lavishing care where required and tempering this with gentle, and occasionally rambunctious, humor.
Inspired by the river Teign in Devon, and particularly by childhood memories from the composer’s time in Bishopsteignton (I personally can attest to how beautiful this part of the United Kingdom is), Flowing Waters (2014) describes the river slowly gaining momentum. Whitlock in his booklet notes rightly identifies the Minimalist influence; there seems to be more than a nod to Bach, also, not only in semi-quotation but particularly in the work’s crystalline purity. Honeybourne’s performance is simply beautiful, even in its most powerful and haunting moments. Another solo piano work, Evening Prayer (2014), refers back to a time of the composer’s life when he was contemplating the priesthood; more recently, Whitlock has been interested in silent Buddhist retreats, the perfect space for grounding and analysis. The atmosphere of Evening Prayer is indeed reflective (delivered with wonderful tone by Honeybourne).
Although referred to on the box and in the booklet track listing as Three Pieces for Wind Trio, Whitlock himself refers to the wind piece as a three-movement Wind Trio, even putting the title in bold; later he modifies this by stating the three movements can be performed separately. For titling purposes, I have gone with the product presentation. Again, this piece is performed by the same artists that gave the premiere, this time in 2014. The three movements are each given a title: “As Shadows Fall,” Morning Escapades,” and “The Midnight Journey.” Again, the music is charming and the performance excellent. Further, Whitlock writes skillfully for the instruments; the caprice-like galloping of the central “Morning Escapades” is well delivered by the players, while the insertion of a far more serious slow section comes as something of a surprise. The closing “The Midnight Journey” is a gentle nocturne. The “conversations” between the three instrumentalists are perfectly judged here, motifs passed from one to the other seamlessly.
Flutist Anna Stokes is joined by pianist Wai-Yin Lee for the Flute Sonata. This dates from 2007 (the year Whitlock moved to Wales to work for Radio 3). The composer himself points out the influences of Prokofiev and Poulenc, and indeed both are discernible. The first movement is excellently crafted, and both Stokes (who was a fellow student of Whitlock’s at the RCM) and Lee (who has a tricky part to contend with) play with complete dedication and, importantly, understanding. The first movement climax emerges naturally and recedes just as inevitably, while the finale has a decidedly circus element to its unbridled and rather delicious jollity. Wai-Yin Lee’s staccato touch is particularly appealing.
Finally, we have The Faust and Mephisto Waltz (2002, revised 2014), a student work that is of deliberately satirical bent. The material comes from music Whitlock composed for a silent film in 2000, and once you know that you pretty much know what to expect. The Lisztian diablerie is splendidly done, as are the teasing slower moments. It is the perfect close to this splendid introduction to a fine, skilled composer.