RNCM News

It seems to be one of the facts of musical life that many fine composers simply disappear from public consciousness. Sadly, there is a whole group of composers, now in their seventies and eighties, whose work is rarely represented on present day concert programmes.

Gordon Crosse is certainly one such: a composer who, in the 1960s and 1970s, attracted enormous interest with works such as Meet My Folks (premiered at Aldeburgh in 1964), Purgatory (Cheltenham 1968) and Wild B oy (1978). The current neglect of Crosse’s work is probably due to the fact that, for whatever reason, he simply stopped composing for 18 years. Happily the last few years have seen a sudden outpouring of works, three of which (all dating from 2009) are included on the present CD.

The back of the enclosed programme booklet advertises a series of ‘Modern lyrical music by British composers’. If (remembering Elisabeth Lutyens dismissive remark about the ‘cow pat’ school) such an announcement makes one’s heart sink the reaction is, in this case, unjustified.

Less complicated and more direct than his earlier music, the Crosse works are in the best English pastoral tradition (all are distinctly modal)and yet speak with a fresh, vital and totally individual voice.

The most substantial of the three works is the Concerto for viola, strings and horn – a work of real substance and stature which, since viola concertos are thin on the ground and the work requires only modest forces, should welcomed by all viola players and become a permanent feature of the repertoire.

In the case of John Manduell the neglect of his work as a composer, and the fact that his output is relatively small, is due to the fact that he has devoted much of his life and energies to arts administration – at the BBC, the Cheltenham Festival in its heyday, Lancaster University and, as readers will hardly need reminding, as founding Principal of the Royal Northern College of Music. As a colleague of Sir John’s at the RNCM for many years I should, at this point, declare an interest. I trust that the reader will take the following observations as being relatively objective.

The Manduell works, while owing little to the English pastoral tradition, are in many ways no less lyrical than the Crosse: witness, for example, the beautiful slow movement of the Flutes Concerto in which (interrupted by a few slightly jazz inflected episodes) the alto flute meditates lovingly on a single figuration (so lovingly, indeed, that it can’t resist returning to it at the end of the finale). The Manduell concertos also draw on a much more varied orchestral palette than the Crosse (the Crosse eschew percussion while the Manduell require a substantial battery) and one of the most immediately striking features of the two works on this CD is the ear for orchestral colour: the combination of piccolo and rainsticks that starts the finale of the Flutes Concerto, the rustling string harmonics of the slow movement of the Double Concerto, the exploration of the subtle timbral contrast of the oboe and cor anglais set against a background of various drums and temple blocks are only a few of the more immediately striking effects that grab the ear ( one would have liked to hear the original version of the Concerto in which the two solo instruments were the Chinese flute and one string violin.)

The performances throughout are uniformly excellent (Deain Rowlands,the harpist – and almost a second soloist – in the Manduell Flute Concerto, deserves especial mention) and the whole is led as skilfully and sympathetically as always by the indefatigable Tim Reynish.

We should be grateful to the Metier for bringing these unjustly neglected works to our attention.

—Douglas Jarman