Pandora was the first woman created by the Greek gods and famously let mankind’s ills out of a box (actually a jar), leaving only hope behind. This album gathers together Wright’s work and he has arranged it to expand on the theme of hope, with “Pandora’s gifts” being emotions linked to hope, such as dance, love, joy and determination, the exception being the opening track.
This album was recorded in Stockport (St Thomas’s Church) almost a year ago and represents work composed over the last 30 years; its release sees Wright celebrate his 60th birthday with several major concerts and three recordings, including this new album of chamber works.
The sound is firmly English pastoral in sound (he lives in Suffolk and you can hear the county’s influence), while sounding modern, ie it’s modem music written with an eye on people who like the traditional.
It’s somewhere between the easily digestible and the avant garde, in that while it’s fundamentally accessible, there’s a lot of variation in tone and delivery. In the sleeve notes, Wright says it’s the story of his life.
Opening track Wind Quintet was written in 1993 and tries to capture the sadness of loss (he doesn’t say of whom) and the joy of happiness: he married his late wife in that year. The music conveys gloom — the early sections are oppressive — but ends in happiness. This is the “destructive gift” of Pandora, by which we assume he means loss inevitably eventually follows love.
The lovely Spring’s Garden —the gift of new life — is as its name suggests and was composed for his wife, describing birds and wild flowers in the garden outside their house.
Orfordness tries to portray the balance of good and evil, based on the Suffolk shingle spit of the same name, which is both a nature reserve and was home to secret military research.
Capriccio is about just being happy.
The next three tracks comprise The Spirit of the Dance, which draws on the tradition of folk and dance, with a harpsichord figuring highly, followed by The Long Wait, an elegy composed for his late father, and perhaps the most powerful track, aided by the soprano of Lesley-Jane Rogers.
In Celebration is a celebration and incorporates jazz; the jaunty opening few bars could equally be the opening of a summery pop tune as a piece of classical music.
Helter Skelter is about climbing the fairground ride and coming back down; at 3.21 the playful piece is about the right length too.
Closing piece Concertino was Wright’s first commissioned work, a neo-classical piece composed for the Cheltenham International Violin Course.
The musicians have been drawn from orchestral and chamber players from Manchester and probably familiar to regular concert goers: Harvey Davies is a teaching fellow in historical performance and staff pianist at the Royal Northern College of Music and lives in Manchester with his wife, the cellist Heather Bills; Richard Howarth formed Manchester Camerata Ensemble in 1990 and now directs Manchester Chamber Ensemble; Nicholas Ward was born in Manchester in 1952, the son of parents who met when they became members of the Halle Orchestra; Richard Williamson is principal viola player with Manchester Camerata and the Goldberg Ensemble; John Turner was born in Stockport, and is one of the leading recorder players of today; Tim Smedley is a professional cellist who has played with Manchester Camerata and Manchester Sinfonia.