Coming Up For Air
Hello to all – I hope you’ve been having a great summer. It must be about two months since I last posted. Alll my time was taken up on the Oxford Experience summer school at Christ Church College, Oxford. I delivered six week-long courses – three of which were on music – two evening lectures, and a musical performance with my good friend and singer-songwriter Roger Dalrymple. As of last Saturday life begins to return to normal and I try to pick up the threads …
There have been a couple of musical highlights worth mentioning. Albion Records have issued another CD of previously unrecorded Vaughan Williams titled ‘The Solent’. I heard this beautiful 11 minute piece for orchestra at its world premiere performance back in May at the English Music Festival and was captivated immediately. It is one of three Impressions for Orchestra which Vaughan Williams composed in the first decade of the C20th, along with ‘Burley Heath’ (which is also a delight) and ‘Harnham Down’. ‘The Solent’ has a special place in Vaughan Williams’ early music because one of its melodies was incorporated in his Ninth Symphony of 1957-68. You can find more information about this and other releases on the RVW Society website.
A constant companion of the past two months has been a CPO disc of Symphonies 2 and 3 by the Swedish composer Dag Wiren (1905-86). Both symphonies are written in a very accessible tonal style with very attractive progressions and themes. The repetition and development of the themes is unusually clear and so a good listen for people not familiar with the symphonic repertoire. There is also a CPO disc of his 4th and 5th symphonies but their idiom is more challenging.
I also found in a charity shop a Chandos CD of choral music by Sir Arthur Bliss (1891-1975). Bliss was quite a well-known figure on the British music scene during the interwar period. I am very fond of his ‘Colour Symphony’ and ‘Music For Strings’ which I think is one of the outstanding works for orchestral strings in the British C20th tradition. So far for me the stand-out track on this choral CD is a setting of part of the closing lines of T S Eliot’s Four Quartets. It also has settings of poems by G M Hopkins.
Naxos has released some interesting early recordings of the Sibelius symphonies from the 1930s in their historical series. There is also a recording from 1940 of Stravinsky conducting The Rite of Spring. I’d like to get to hear these.
In the rock field I was interested to read about the forthcoming 6-CD box set of Marc Bolan / T.Rex recordings for the BBC. This set supercedes the 3-CD Bolan at the Beeb of a few years ago. This new collection will only really be of interest to serious Bolan fans, though there will be a 2-CD version. The problem with the recordings he did for the BBC after 1970 (i.e. once T Rex started having hits) is that they are often not much more than recycled backing tracks from the original versions, sometimes with a few overdubs missing, sometimes with a new lead vocal. I would like at some point to write something about the plethora of T Rex alternate versions and so-called ‘out-takes’ which have come out in recent years.
Still no word on those promised Led Zeppelin remasters …
A recent guitar lesson experience reminded me of the existence of the partial capo. This is a capo that instead of holding down all the strings at a single fret permits the player to select a combination of strings. This enables the player to, say, put a capo at the second fret but only make it hold down strings 1-5, 6 remaining unaffected by the capo. This approximates drop-D tuning but without changing the pitch of the sixth string. This means a G chord has the bass note G exactly where you would expect it – third fret – not the fifth fret as happens with drop D tuning. My partial capo is a relatively crude elasticated device from a few years ago, but there must be more sophisticated models on the market by now.
My next work project will be the completion of a new songwriting book for Backbeat books. It will appear in 2014. I am also thinking about a Christmas single release and an album of songs to follow Atlantic Canticles.
I’ll sign off by sending good wishes to the young guy from the Orange County Youth Orchestra with whom I jammed two impromptu guitar / violin duets yesterday in Blackwells Music Shop in Oxford. That was fun, and reminded me how lucky we are as musicians to be able to share the wonderful world of music.