It’s always exciting to discover a ‘new’ composer, and I’d not come across Christopher Wright’s music before hearing this disc. Born in Ipswich in 1954, he studied with Richard Arnell and after working as a music teacher for many years, with only limited opportunities to compose, he decided to devote more time to composition in 1993. His list of works is now substantial, including concertos for oboe and violin (both recorded by Dutton), and horn and cello (written for Raphael Wallfisch and recorded by him for Lyrita).
The present disc is a survey of Wright’s chamber music, starting with the Wind Quintet composed in 1994, with a subtitle from W. B. Yeats (and, in turn, Britten’s Turn of the Screw): ‘The ceremony of innocence is drowned’. Written at a time of turmoil and change in Wright’s life (as he tells us in the notes), this single movement lasting 12 minutes is a work of real substance, broadly tonal, but challenging and uneasy. From its rising flourish at the start, it is highly concentrated, and the performance here by Nichola Hunter, Lisa Osborne, Elizabeth Jordan, Naomi Atherton and Sarah Nixon is stylish and convincing. Spring’s Garden is a short piece for viola and piano, a tranquil and reflective depiction of the garden outside the composer’s music room and, as he puts it, ‘the antithesis of the Wind Quintet’.
Orfordness is a work that explores and brings together the two sides of Wright’s musical nature heard in the first two pieces. He was struck by the paradox of Orfordness in Suffolk as a place which was both a secret weapons establishment and a nature reserve. The restless unease at the core of this piece is impressively realized by Hunter (flute), Nicholas Ward (violin), Tim Smedley (cello) and Jonathan Fisher (piano). Capriccio for clarinet and piano (Jordan and Fisher) is an attractive kind of neo-classical pastoral written in a stylistic tradition that can trace its roots to works such as John Ireland’s Clarinet Sonata. But it’s Wright’s fluency and the distinctive identity of the ideas that make this piece well worth hearing.
Wright has composed several works for the recorder player John Turner and Spirit of the Dance (for recorder, violin, cello and harpsichord) is most attractively performed by die dedicatee with Ward, Smedley and Harvey Davies (harpsichord). There’s a touch of a composer like Jean Francaix here, while In Celebration, another set of pieces for recorder (this time with string quartet), is more rooted in the British tradition. Helter Skelter for cello and piano is closer to die vigorous language of the Wind Quintet despite its much more light-hearted character.
The Long Wait, a song for soprano with recorder and piano, was written just after the death of the composer’s father, and the poem it sets is Wright’s own reflection on commitment and sacrifice. Sung by Lesley-Jane Rogers, it’s a predominantly slow piece, and one that I found rather haunting. The final work on this disc is the Concertino for two violins, viola and piano, originally written for young players in 1985. With quotations from the ‘Dies irae’ and a thoroughly neo-Baroque kind of energy, it’s another attractive piece, though not one that searches as deeply as some of the others in this recital, particularly the Wind Quintet, Orfordness and The Long Wait.
All the performances are excellent, and the booklet notes by the composer are both informative and personal. I look forward very much to hearing more of Wright’s music and
I recommend this disc to anyone with an interest in music that is rooted in a tonal language that is never vapid or sentimental, but often imaginative and always expertly crafted.