Soloists from the Halle and BBC Philharmonic orchestras
Paul Jones piano

Naxos: 8.574224

Edward Gregson made his name a with a stunning series of highly original, tuneful works for British brass band, and latterly for orchestra. This CD of instrumental works, featuring flute, oboe clarinet, trumpet, trombone, tuba, violin, viola with piano, follows on from an earlier Naxos disc of solo piano music (see review here).  Like that offering, the music here is not as individual or ear-catching as his works for large ensembles but there is much to enjoy. 

The earliest work is the Oboe Sonata from the 19 year old student Gregson.  This is impressive work which hangs together, never outstays its welcome and is brimming with good tunes, slightly jazzy harmonies and exciting rhythms. It does remind me rather of Madeline Dring’s many works for this combination, but that is no bad thing.  Jennifer Galloway and Paul Jones expertly pull together the eclectic threads.

The Five Tributes for clarinet and piano were written over 20 years and not completed until 2010. They pay homage to composers whom Gregson admires, and who also wrote well for the clarinet. Here we hear the ones to Stravinsky, Finzi and Bartok – I would love to hear the one for Messiaen. The Finzi, captures his languid world of romantic pastoralism and will undoubtedly enter the repertoire. Sergio Castelló López, chameleon like, beautifully blends his tone to the different worlds.

At 13 minutes the longest set on the disc are the Cameos for trumpet and piano. Written as educational pieces over a period of 30 years they cover a variety of idioms and are quintessential Gregson. Gareth Small’s melliferous yet brilliant tone is perfectly suited to these miniatures.

In 1976 Gregson wrote a superb Tuba Concerto which straight away entered the repertoire. Here the only solo item, is Alarum for solo tuba, a virtuoso, thorny work that leaps from high to low registers with alarming frequency. Ewan Easton is more than a match for its difficulties.

Eclectic and approachable, from the beginning of his career Gregson decided he would write tonal, tuneful music and this disc shows that it very much has a place in contemporary music. For that we should be grateful.

Review by Paul RW Jackson