Gramophone

In the 1940s and ‘50s Antony Hopkins was a familiar name as composer, conductor, broadcaster, author, lecturer, first-rate pianist—he called himself ‘a musical odd-job man’. But he was much more than that for he did everything with distinction; and, although his muse was utterly English, his writing has almost a French piquancy. He was lightweight but never trivial and he could consistently charm the ear. So it is good to discover another mid-20 th -century composer who wants to please the ordinary music lover and has rejected atonalism. The present anthology shows his range and his consistently seductive invention, with a consistent injection of often haunting lyricism. The opening Viola Sonata, with its fascinating ‘Ground’ and touching ‘Epilogue’, is a splendid work and his Partita for solo violin is all but worthy of Bach, with a splendid central fugato. He writes beautifully for the recorder—the Suite for descant recorder is both deeply expressive and chirpily infectious (and John Turner, with his elegant phrasing and beautiful timbre matches every change of mood winningly). The Third Piano Sonata is another first-rate work, delectably diverse, the opening movement folksy, followed by a somber Largo and a lovely Tranquillo with much uninhibited gusto in the finale. Hopkins also knows how to write appealingly for the soprano voice. The songs are all fresh and, again, often have a folk-like inspiration.

The second disc opens with an irresistibly catchy Tango and then, in the Three Seductions, becomes melancholy, a mood which returns in the Sarabande of the Four Dances from Back to Methuselah, in which he once more looks backwards in time to earlier musical styles, albeit enhanced with a modern overlay. The bonus tracks from the stage works are enjoyable but ungenerous. The eight 90 th -birthday tributes from admiring contemporaries include David Matthews’s winsome instrumental A Little Pastoral, and David Dubery’s ‘Evening in April’ and Gordon Crusse’s striking ‘CantAHta’, both beautifully sung by Lesley-Jane Rogers. Joseph Phibbs’s unpredictable ‘Pierrot’ is very much in the Hopkins vein, as is Elis Pehkonen’s engaging Pied en l’air, the composer’s own favourite. Altogether this is a delightfully entertaining anthology, vividly recorded, and can be especially recommended to those who, like me, had not previously discovered the composer’s music.

—Ivan March