Details of published CD, DVD, Video and LP recordings of the works of Howard Blake.
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A full list of all of Howard's works which have been recorded (though not necessarily published or made available for sale) can be found here.
Music for piano and strings (CD)
28th October 2008
24th May 2008
Sonata for violin and piano, Jazz Dances, Pennillion: Madeleine Mitchell (violin) Howard Blake (piano) Recorded Potton Hall, May 24-25, July 13 2008.
The CD includes an archive recording of the Piano Quartet performed by Jack Rothstein (violin), Kenneth Essex (viola), Peter Willison (cello) and Howard Blake(piano), recorded at the Conway Hall, October 1974
[opus 586] Violin Sonata [/opus] (1973 revised 2007) 23’ 26'’
1. 1. Allegro 7’22’
2. 2. Lento 7’04’’
3. 3. Presto 9’00’’
Premiere recording by Jeremy Hayes, Potton Hall, Suffolk. Madeleine Mitchell (violin), Howard Blake (piano). Dedicated to the memory of Miles Baster
[opus 571] Pennillion for violin & piano [/ opus](1975 revised 2005) 9' 24’’
4. 1. Theme – Moderato 1’42’’
5. 2. Var. 1 – Vivo 0’35’’
6. 3. Var. 2 – L’istesso tempo 0’37’’
7. 4. Var. 3 – Meno mosso (ritmico) 1’01’’
8. 5. Var.4 – Allegro 0’54’’
9. 6. Var. 5 – Lento (misterioso) 1’ 16’’
10. 7. Var. 6 – Moderato (grazioso) 1’45’’
11. 8. Theme - Tempo primo (tranquillo) 1’34’’
Premiere recording by Jeremy Hayes, Potton Hall, Suffolk. Madeleine Mitchell (violin) Howard Blake (piano)
[opus 179] Piano Quartet for piano, violin, viola, cello [/opus] (1974) 27’ 07’’
12. 1. Allegro 7’15’’
13. 2. Presto (scherzo) 5’23’’
14. 3. Lento 7’39’’
15. 4. Allegro ritmico 6’50’’
Vintage recording made by Adam Skeaping in the Aeolion Hall in 1975 played by Jack Rothstein (violin), Kenneth Essex (viola), Peter Willison (cello) and Howard Blake (piano)
[opus 520a] Jazz Dances for violin & piano [/opus] (1976/2008) 13' 33’’
16. 1. Parade (allegro molto ritmico) 1’01’’
17. 2. Slow Ragtime (larghetto) 1’24’’
18. 3. Jump (molto animato) 0’54’’
19. 4. Medium Rock (tempo giusto) 1’55’’
20. 5. Folk Ballad (lento) 2’08’’
21. 6. Boogie (presto) 1’04’’
22. 7. Jazz Waltz (allegretto triste) 2’10’’
23. 8. Cha-cha (moderato) 1’47’’
24. 9. Galop (presto) 1’05’’
Premiere recording by Jeremy Hayes, Potton Hall, Suffolk. Madeleine Mitchell (violin) Howard Blake (piano)
PROGRAMME NOTES FOR 'MUSIC FOR PIANO AND STRINGS'
‘As a student at the Royal Academy of Music I formed a duo with violinist Miles Baster, performing concerts of the standard repertoire: Mozart, Beethoven, Franck, Faure, Brahms, Ravel and so on. I adored this repertoire and the extraordinarily direct and passionate music that the combination of these two instruments engenders. Miles suggested that I compose a sonata, but I had produced nothing more than a sketch when he left London to found The Edinburgh String Quartet and our partnership came to an abrupt end. I changed direction, turning towards playing, arranging, composing and conducting music for the media and becoming unbelievably busy and in demand. By the early 1970s I had overdone it. I retreated to a watermill in Sussex, determined to work again at the basic pillars of harmony, counterpoint and form and to further develop my own style of classical composition. I began to play chamber music again with violinist Jack Rothstein and cellist Peter Willison, who asked if I would write him a cello piece. I responded with Diversions for cello and piano. Jack asked if I would write a Violin Sonata, and I wrote the first version of the one here recorded. Jack then suggested that the viola player Ken Essex might join us if I wrote a Piano Quartet and I (somewhat foolhardily!) turned down Kubrick’s ‘Barry Lyndon’ in order to work at it. But we were pleased with the outcome and a concert of the three new works was given, followed by what we all felt to be an inspired demo recording of the Piano Quartet, here on professional release for the first time. I later expanded and orchestrated Diversions into a concerto with the help of Maurice Gendron and a fine recording of it was made by Robert Cohen and The Philharmonia, but I was not satisfied with the Violin Sonata and withdrew it from circulation.
In February 2007 I found myself conducting the SCO in Edinburgh and the cellist from The Edinburgh Quartet, Mark Bailey, who was playing in the orchestra, approached me and we reminisced a little. Miles had spent his entire life playing with the quartet and had died in rather sad circumstances and we talked about some sort of musical tribute to him. During last summer I dug out the material from all those years before and looked at it again. Suddenly I conceived a new opening and this set me on the path of extensively and ferociously revising the entire piece. Whilst writing I constantly remembered Miles' virtuosity and artistic punctiliousness, his views on music and his extreme conscientiousness as regards to markings, tempo and dynamics. I marked it: 'Dedicated to the memory of Miles Baster.' The slow movement Lento might seem to have a requiem-like quality, although the work is of a virtuoso nature throughout. I can only hope that he might have approved. It would have meant a great deal to me.
‘Pennillion’ was another of Jack’s requests. He arrived at the mill one day in 1975 with Annabel Etkind, a beautiful 18-year old harpist who wanted a piece for them to play at a Grosvenor Square banquet. I thought: ‘Where would one encounter such a combination? Perhaps a Welsh Eisteddfodd?’ The name ‘Pennillion’ is the Welsh custom of singing (or playing) improvised verses on a given theme to a melody either well-known or taught by the harper. I composed my own folk-like and (what I thought to be) Welsh-like theme and seven variations on it. Years later when working on my violin concerto with the Berlin-based violinist Christiane Edinger I arranged the harp part for piano: ‘One listened to this concisely constructed work with its astonishingly inspired melody as if the name of the composer were not Howard Blake but Antonin Dvorak. The Slavic-sounding tonality of this poignant piece makes one curious to hear the Violin Concerto that Blake has composed for Christiane Edinger.’ (Berliner Tagespiegel) This is the first recording of that version, created for her in1994.
The deeply reflective E major slow movement (Lento) of the Piano Quartet has always been particularly dear to me. I wrote it one beautiful Spring afternoon in 1974 at Highbridge Mill, with sun streaming through the window and total silence. It begins with a major third repeated on the piano acting as a bell-like accompaniment to 3 statements of a 4-note rising phrase, first on violin then imitated by viola and cello. When I was writing the Piano Concerto some 16 years later it occurred to me that its first movement also revolved around a four-note theme and that this Lento could be further developed in an orchestral concerto context. It is transposed to F major rather than E and the theme is first stated by the piano soloist, yet the special atmosphere remains. I can never decide which version I prefer.
Jazz Dances was the only piece on this album not suggested by Jack Rothstein. Sussex pianist and conductor, Janet Canetty-Clarke, had attended the first performance of the Piano Quartet and determined to build an entire choral and instrumental concert of my recent music around it. She got things rolling by commissioning a cantata:’The Song of Saint Francis’ for her own choir (The Ditchling Choral Society) and invited us to play ‘Pennillion’ and the Piano Quartet. However the concert wasn’t quite long enough and she wondered if I had a piece for two pianos. I didn’t and there was very little time but I ‘dashed off’ these little dances and performed them with her to hearty applause. They are not really ‘jazz’ but, as I wrote in the program-note: ‘pay mischievous but affectionate homage to the rhythmic intracacies of popular dance forms.’ I called them ‘Dances for Two Pianos’, later scoring them for orchestra as ‘Concert Dances’. In 2001 I created a string solo version for the cellist Martin Rummel giving them the more apt title ‘Jazz Dances’ from which this violin version derives.
In a Sony sleeve-note of 1991 music critic Christopher Palmer wrote: ‘What is particularly unusual in Howard Blake’s case (as a composer) is that, far from disowning his alter ego, the kind of musician he was and the kind of music he produced in the first 10 years of his professional life, he has found in them the mainspring of a remarkable personal renaissance. Much of the raw material of his most significant recent works derives from this source, but so refined, processed, enhanced, even sublimated, as to be scarcely recognizable.’ ‘Jazz Dances’ clearly demonstrates the beginning of this curious alchemy.
I met Madeleine Mitchell last December at a London music publisher’s Christmas party and she asked me if I had written anything for violin. I told her I had just finally completed a violin sonata after about 35 years (!) and typically she said: ‘When can we try it?’ We got together and gradually explored the other works now featured on this album. I realized much to my surprise that there was in existence more than 70 minutes of music for piano and strings. Even more surprising was the fact that all of that music had begun its journey during the same time slot, from 1973 to 1976. We approached Naxos who were very supportive of the project and we set about learning how to play the music. In some cases I undertook considerable revisions of both violin and piano parts so that now all the pieces are eminently playable (if not exactly easily playable!) I cannot thank Madeleine enough for her enthusiasm and immense hard work in putting this together and I hope, as she does, that it will give as much pleasure to those who get to hear it as we got from playing it.
Madeleine Mitchell is one of England’s most celebrated violinists, with an extensive repertoire at her command. She has performed in over forty countries as a soloist, both with major orchestras and in recitals, broadcasting on radio and television and frequently recording. She has been Professor of Violin at the Royal College of Music since 1994 and also directs her own ‘Red Violin Festival’ of which the founder patron with her was Yehudi Menuhin. She has championed much new music and this album was undertaken very much as the result of her initiative.
Jack Rothstein came to London in 1947 to study with Max Rothstal but such was his talent that within a remarkably short time he was offered the position of leader of the prestigious Boyd Neal Chamber Orchestra. He went on to lead orchestras such as The Philharmonia, The London Mozart Players, The Northern Sinfonia and later Howard’s own orchestra, The Sinfonia of London. A brilliant and multi-lingual musician of great charm and humour, he took a delight in Howard’s music and enjoyed recording with him.
Kenneth Essex studied at The Royal Academy of Music where he won the viola prize in his first term. He was for a number of years a member of the Hurwitz Quartet and later principal viola of the Goldsbrough, Boyd Neal, RPO and LSO orchestras. He always much enjoyed playing string quintets as additional viola and acted in this capacity with the Gabrieli, Haffner, Georgian, Aeolian and even on occasion the Amadeus. He and Jack Rothstein greatly enjoyed playing together and their rapport is strikingly evident in this recording.
Peter Willison studied with Douglas Cameron at The Royal Academy of Music where he won the Suggia Scholarship to study with Paul Tortelier. He became principal cello of the LSO when Neville Marriner was a principal violinist and they undertook chamber music engagements together. When Howard composed his famous score for ‘The Snowman’ in 1982 he asked Peter to create a hand-picked orchestra with Jack Rothstein as leader, Kenneth Essex as principal viola and himself as principal cellist. Such was the quality of this orchestra that it was offered the cherished brand-name ‘Sinfonia of London’.