The British composer Marcus Blunt was born in Birmingham in 1947. He studied composition at the University College of Wales in Aberystwyth and has since travelled widely, and worked widely, before moving to Scotland in 1990. His biography includes such occupations between 1970 and 1976 as warehouse packer and photographic processor – which puts George Lloyd’s mushroom and carnation business into some kind of compositional context. He’s now the composer-in-residence for the Dumfries Music Club.
Given that the majority of his works are instrumental it makes sense to concentrate on his piano music. It’s played by the dedicatee of one of his most recent pieces, the avidly curious and eloquent Murray McLachlan. You’ll note that I’ve retained the upper and lower case particularities of that piece and also the fantasies on the names of Scriabin and Fauré – these are explained more fully in the notes and don’t affect one’s appreciation of the music.
This conspectus gives us three piano sonatas, programmed in reverse. The compact eleven-minute plus First was written in 1971-72 – that’s to say shortly after he graduated – and revised in 1997. It consists of a Fantasia and a series of Variations. There’s a puckish baroque spirit at work in the first and a strong flirtation with twelve-tone in the variations. The Second Sonata followed in 1977 but like the First was subject to revision, this time in 1998. This is a particularly revealing and successful work. The first movement rocking themes coalesce with a powerful sense of character in the chordal writing. The finale of this tightly constructed three-movement work is agitated and quite declamatory – the repetition of the chordal writing gives it a starkly uncompromising nature – and the Messiaen touches seem to me to be deliberate. The Third Sonata (1988 revised 1994) bears the title The Life Force. In only seven minutes we meet some astutely fluid writing, still maybe bearing ghostly trace marks of the influence of Tippett. Rolling and dramatic and with strongly contrapuntal elements this is a fine example of Blunt’s inheritance and unassuming control of sonata elements.
The early Preludes are in fact his earliest piano works. They’re not yet fully characteristic but show intimations of the composer to come. The Theme, the second of the seven, is spare but has atmosphere whilst the Jiglet has a pawky humour. The Scarlatti homage is actually very clever – never resorting to pastiche or nostalgia. The two Scriabin homages are clearly imaginative foretastes of his later compositional association – in the shape of the 1992 Fantasy – with a composer who has clearly been highly influential on him.
The two little Iona pieces are rather too elliptical for full pleasure but the Nocturnes impress more. They summon up a sense of place and personality. The tribute to the composer’s friend Frank Bayford is especially warm and affectionate. He retains independence in his Scriabin Fantasy – this is an artful and eventful piece, finely textured – and the Fauré tribute summons up the spirit of the composer through the sparest of means. Finally there’s the tribute to McLachlan, which begins quietly but generates a fulsome, powerful dynamic – how astute a character study this is perhaps only the pianist can know!
So a most enjoyable recital, attractively recorded, and played with typical sensitivity by a pianist fully in sympathy with the music’s demands and nature-mystic moments. But when will we hear Blunt’s Piano Concerto? Admirers of the composer should agitate for it and Dunelm should go on a drive to get this in the recording can without undue delay.