Howard Blake piano and conductor
English Northern Philharmonia
Paul Daniel conductor
This latest SOMM disc is devoted to orchestral music to mark the 85th birthday of Howard Blake. Mr Blake has been a key figure in British musical life for over 60 years. He cut his teeth on The Avengers tv series in the 60s, and had enormous success with The Snowman in the 80s. (I’m walking in the air will be everywhere over Christmas).
Sadly, as Robert Matthew–Walker points out in his notes, because he has moved between the fields of commercial and art music, his art music has not been taken seriously by programmers. That is our loss as the life enhancing music on the CD shows. The recordings all come from the early 90s.
The single movement Symphony No.1 Impressions of a City from 1990, had an earlier incarnation as Movement for Orchestra written in 1967, but it was not performed until 1975. In style it sounds like music from a 1950s or 60s travelogue film, expertly arranged as a highly satisfying symphonic movement. The orchestration is as impeccable as it is exhilarating, and the composer conducting draws wonderfully dynamic playing from the Philharmonia. There is a curious, momentary hiccup on the transfer at 8’ 23”.
The Concert Dances for piano and orchestra enable Mr Blake to show off his considerable prowess as a pianist. An arrangement of a work for two pianos, the dances, all in a popular idiom, are instantly understandable. The boogie and the galop finale were my favourites and reminded me very much of Milhaud’s Le Carnival d’Aix. This is the sort of music which is so looked down on these days, but of which, in these dark times, we need more.
The final two works come from Mr Blake’s forays into ballet and film. The Court of Love was written for choreographer Lynn Seymour in 1979. It takes its title and style from the court of Eleanor of Aquitaine and there are many medieval turns of phrase and modal harmonies. Walton – eat your heart out!
The underrated Paul Daniel takes over with the English Northern Philharmonia for the last work on the disc, a suite for strings arranged from the music for the 1987 film A Month in the Country. Not to be confused with Turgenev, the film starring Colin Firth was set in Yorkshire after WW1. Mr. Blake writes the work in a 1920s English style, and it could surely fit well in any concert of English string music. The elegiac middle movement is painfully exquisite, and I am surprised it has not developed a life of its own. The string sound is beautifully captured, being rich and sonorous.
Review by Paul RW Jackson