Fanfare

Born in Britain in 1954, Christopher Wright left a career as a full-time music teacher to devote himself completely to composition. I mention this only because in their earlier reviews of his music (Fanfare 33:6 and 36:3, respectively), Paul Snook and James A. Altena use the opportunity to complain about the Modernist preferences of American academia, in contrast to Wright’s “communicative” (both use the word) approach. Apparently there are dogmatic stylistic differences between British and American academics. In any case, I thought Altena hit the nail on the head when he described Wright’s 2010 Violin Concerto as “well constructed, expressive, and communicative, rather than ‘original’.” (I can’t say why he puts “original” in quotation marks, unless he is suggesting it’s a bad thing to be orig­inal, and that “rather” suggests he feels that it’s not possible to create something original that is also well constructed, expressive, and communicative. Hmm.) Nevertheless, this disc of Wright’s chamber music, dating from 1985 (the concertino, whose neo-Baroque slow movement is framed by some Stravinsky-isms in rhythm and harmony) to 2013 (In Celebration and Helter Skelter —no connection, as far as I can tell, to the Beatles or Charles Manson—both intended to show off the skills of recorderist John Turner), is likewise full of concise, carefully and skillfully designed pieces of no special orig­inality. What Altena and Snook regard as “communicative” I’d call friendly and unchallenging.

A few examples. Although intended to suggest desolation and gloom (according to the composer’s notes), there’s a frequently playful undercurrent to the contrapuntally-spun melodies of the wind quintet. The brief Spring’s Garden, dedicated to the memory of his late wife, is a tender, sentimental neo-Victorian vignette. The clarinet and piano capriccio is reminiscent of Hindemith in his best Neoclassical garb, though not as incisively cast. And the use of the harpsichord in the three-movement Spirit of the Dance lends a pleasing tang—why don’t more contemporary composers (even Modernists) write for it? I notice I’ve used several “neos” in this review, which is not to say that Wright’s music is mimicry, but that he does make use of tried-and-true styles in his own clever way. The performances suit the music well. Listeners looking for a pleasant divertissement may find something they like here.

—Art Lange