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Diversions Interpreters: Benedict Kloeckner (Violoncello), Howard Blake (Piano) Label: Genuin GEN 15346 Type: CD Published in: Das Orchester November 2015, page 85 On this CD ‘Diversions’ the composer Howard Blake (1938) joins up with Benedict Kloeckner (1989) the rising star of the cello world to present a programme of his own compositions. When Kloeckner won the New Talent Competition of the European Broadcasting Union in 2010 with Blake’s suite ‘Diversions’, the composer presented him with the Cello Sonata and the opportunity of being first to perform it. This led to the two musicians joining up in a close working relationship which has produced a wonderful-sounding album in which the rhythmic finesse of film music and elements of jazz combine to delight the ear. The British pianist, conductor and composer Howard Blake has written soundtracks for famous films as well as numerous concert works and is thus able to exhibit an extensive and multi-faceted oeuvre. One of his most famous pieces is the song ‘Walking in the Air’ from the film ‘The Snowman’, which is to be heard on this CD. Another famous credit is his soundtrack for the science-fiction film ‘Flash Gordon’ on which he worked together with the British rock band ‘Queen’. Throughout the album one can hear that Howard Blake is at home in the film metier in his compositions. They are colourfully laid out and tell stories. Striking melodies, rhythmic complexity, virtuosically-constructed passages and strongly-expressive harmonies determine their character. Some of the pieces heard on the CD were originally written for other combinations and therefore it is as transcriptions that they should be credited as world first performances. The work providing the album-title, ‘Diversions’, is an eight-movement suite which plays with contrasts. It takes historical forms such as the Prelude or the Sarabande, but dresses them up them in contemporary clothes, using jazzy and rhythmically-pointed musical elements. During the variation-work ‘Pennillion’ its longing, cantabile melody is allowed to shine in ever-changing new lights, the Cello Sonata is most unusual in its voicings. At last we come to the programme-piec ‘The Enchantment of Venus’, for whose story Blake is served by Greek myth. The farewell exhibits two short melodic pieces, ‘Walking in the Air’ and ‘Archangel’s Lullaby’ that was originally written for three cellos. Howard Blake and Benedict Kloeckner convince on this high-quality album by their clearly-heard joy in the music. The outstanding quality and the beauty of sound is maintained throughout the works and their very different characters. Blake’s compositions with their catchy melodies must surely appeal not only to film-music buffs but to anyone who opens their ears! Anna Catharina Nimczik
Arranged by DAS ORCHESTER NOVEMBER 2015
Anna Catharina Nimczik, Das Orchester, 11/2015
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Howard BLAKE (b.1938)
Diversions for cello and piano, Op.337a (1984/85) [23:15]
Pennillion for cello and piano Op. 525a (2001) [8:49]
Cello Sonata, Op.619 (2007/2010) [23:31]
The Enchantment of Venus, Op.566a (2006) [8:07]
Walking in the Air, from The Snowman, Op.620a (1982/2011) [3:54]
Archangel’s Lullaby, Op.436a (1991) [2:01]
Benedict Kloeckner (cello)
Howard Blake (piano)
rec. July 2013 and January 2014, Südwestrundfunk, SWR Studio Kaiserslautern
GENUIN GEN15346 [70:04]
The prolific Howard Blake has made a virtue of recasting many of his works for different instruments or combinations of instruments. This accounts for the many times that opus numbers are followed by the letter ‘a’ – there are five such occasions on this delightfully conceived disc which traces a trajectory from Blake’s Opp.337 to 620. For Blakeans, extra pleasure comes from the fact that the composer is at the piano throughout.
Diversions was originally conceived as a suite for cello and piano but Maurice Gendron suggested it would work for cello and orchestra and edited the solo part (review ~ review). With his Op.337a Blake returns to his original conception with Benedict Kloeckner, who has played it frequently, and has mastered its various moods – whether the bittersweet Prelude, the vital, rhythmically dashing and somewhat Francophile Scherzo, the slow expressive March or the work’s expressive heart, the rapt Aria. Not one to wallow, Blake ensures that the vivacious and slinky Serenade prefaces a rather eerie Sarabande and an exciting Finale.
Composed for the bardic team of violin and harp, Pennillion is heard in its cello-and-piano incarnation here which well suits it, not least in that hypnotic Lento, misterioso section in the work’s centre. The expressive flexibility of the melodic lines, and the affectingly quite close, never fail to move in whatever combination. The Cello Sonata, rather like the Franck arrangement, is a transcription of the Violin Sonata. This is a work I especially admire for its emotive candour. In fact, part of my MWI review of the sonata in its Violin guise is reprinted in the booklet, and my comments apply equally to this version. I’d only say that knowing that it was conceived in memory of fiddle player Miles Baster makes performance on the violin a touch more poignant – though if you didn’t know, it wouldn’t much matter.
The Enchantment of Venus, Op.566a is an arrangement of a work originally for basset clarinet. It was Kloeckner who suggested this arrangement and he certainly ensures that the work’s occasional gruffness but also its essential lyricism are brought to the fore. It has strong March themes – Blake is very good at them - and is well proportioned. Two small pieces see the disc out. Walking in the Air is recorded, for the first time, for cello and piano – a delight, and the piano twinkles deliciously. Finally Archangel’s Lullaby is a perfect envoi, offering a final glimpse at Blake’s seemingly endless gift for melody and beauty.
The recording is well judged and the booklet is sympathetic, quoting from a variety of source material.
Jonathan Woolf, International Music Web,