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Recorded on NAXOS: HOWARD BLAKE MUSIC FOR PIANO & STRINGS (74'15'') Madeleine Mitchell (violin) and Howard Blake (piano) Naxos 8.572083 released October 28th 2008 www.naxos.com
Originally composed for Jack Rothstein 1973 (opus 169), withdrawn
Revised for Christiane Edinger 1994 (opus 454), withdrawn
All 3 movements rewritten August/September 2007 (opus 586). Published by Highbridge Music 2007
Composer's note: 'Whilst a student from 1957 at the RAM I had been the piano part of a duo with Miles Baster, performing concerts of the standard repertoire, but Miles left london to live in Edinburgh in 1960 to lead The Edinburgh String Quartet and our partnership came to an end. Miles became violin professor at Glasgow Academy and Leith University and remained devoted solely to music there until his death. He had largely abandoned his earlier ambition to be a soloist in favour of professional activity in teaching, chamber and orchestral music. As a student he had once expressed the wish that I compose a sonata for him, but I produced nothing more than a sketch. In the early seventies I left London to live at Highbridge Mill in Sussex and started playing occasionally with the violinist Jack Rothstein. He also suggested a sonata which I did compose, quite rapidly during October-November 1973, but after a couple of performances I withdrew it.
More years went by and after the recording of the Violin Concerto in 1993 the German soloist Christiane Edinger asked to look at the sonata. We played it through and I made some revisions but was once again dissatisfied and discarded it.
In February 2007 I found myself conducting in Edinburgh and the cellist from Miles' quartet, Mark Bailey, who was playing in the orchestra, approached me and we reminisced a little. I started to recall Miles' playing from all those years ago. He had very high ideals in regard to music and strong opinions as to the quality and importance of the greatest composers. Perhaps for this very reason I had never summoned up the temerity to thrust my own work on him. During this conversation however the idea of some sort of musical tribute to Miles was briefly mooted, although it got no further, yet during the summer I dug out the material and looked at it again, some of it going back as far as 50 years! Suddenly I conceived a completely new beginning 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. Having completed it I marked it 'Dedicated to the memory of Miles Baster.' The slow movement might seem to have a requiem-like quality, although the work is of a virtuoso nature throughout. I can only hope that he might conceivably have approved. That would have been a rare honour.'
Alan Parmenter and Howard Blake gave a violin and piano recital of Blake’s compositions: The Penillion Op 586 from 1975 revised 2005, the Solo Guitar Prelude Sarabande and Gigue Op 477 from January 1995 and the Violin Sonata Op 571 (1973/2007).
Violinist Alan Parmenter joins composer and pianist Howard Blake for a very special recital.
Blake we know as the composer of The Snowman, as well as 204 commercial ads including reintroducing many classical music hits – the ‘Bell Song’ duet from Delibes’ Lakmé has worked for BA over 30 even 40 years.
Still his opus numbers total well over 600. Two compositions he returned to in the mid-noughties date originally from the 1970s but they’ve been overhauled. You can find them with his Piano Quintet on an acclaimed Naxos disc.
First was the Penillion Op 571 for Violin and Piano from 1975 revised 2005. Parmenter has a full but penetrating tone, and with the composer at the piano providing a sterling through-line this was always gong to be authoritative. It’s a work with the Theme at the opening and conclusion with six variations in between. It’s memorable, a mix of jaunty wistfulness and jazzy syncopations, elements of those commercial imprints Blake himself claims.
The melodic profile is keen, with an upward-moving theme worked though various tempi like moderato vivo, L’istesso tempo (same as before), Meno mosso, Allegro, Lento, Moderato Blake’s long-breathed melodies jaunt with sudden jagged upswings though generally smoothly shifting harmonies, with a popular melodic idiom almost on the breath of the work, but with its own personal integrity, somewhere where the highest kind of film music is distilled into utterly memorable chamber works like this one.
We then heard a masterwork, played by Paul Gregory on guitar. This is the Prelude Sarabande and Gigue Op 477, a typical guitar triptych. It’s a work from January 1995, again not only memorable but with its teeming invention in the quiet gentle Prelude, the Sarabande slipping quietly into an earworm and then a Gigue as memorable and fine as one of the Five Preludes of Villa-Lobos with its anticipated wrong-footing chords (like Beethoven’s Violin Sonata Op 12/3 with the violin and piano playing catch-up) this characterful works concluded. It really should be standard repertoire It’s the most distinct piece for guitar since Walton’s Five Pieces and Richard Rodney Bennett’s. Gregory is known as a sovereign interpreter, and here he gathered in the work’s expressive range, easy to bloom in this acoustic.
The Violin Sonata Op 586 from 1973 revised 2007 shares similar material with the slightly earlier Penillion opens with an Allegro reminding us of the work we heard at the opening. It’s fast-paced but not aggressive, sashaying in an out of a gently jazzy theme drawn on an Alberti bass.
The Lento in John Ireland’s mildly sinewy vein rippling to a kind of peace, perhaps gives no hint of the fiercer Presto to come, full of explosive lyric force. There’s a snap and ferocity at the end you’d not predict. Ireland yes but really Blake sounds only like himself. Parmenter summons piercing stratospheric sonance allied to a truly digging-out of those rhythmic figures, even more extreme than I’ve heard anywhere else. Blake throughout enthuses in the snappiness of his own part-writing,
A masterly composer whose works we all know more than we think, beyond The Snowman, this was treasurable.
|18th December 2015||Zara Benyounes (violin), Jeremy Young (piano), Alfriston Parish Church, Sussex|
|29th August 2015||Alicia Smietana and Sasha Grynyuk, Dunblane Cathedral
A programme of music for violin and piano by Howard Blake
|10th May 2015||Sasha Grynyuk, piano and Alicya Smietana violin, The Dysart, Petersham, Richmnond, Surrey|
|10th May 2015||Sasha Grynyuk and Alicya Smietana, The Dysart, Petersham
Tremendous performances ffrom both players in an informal atmosphere close to Richmond Park
|4th December 2014||Howard Blake piano, Madeleine Mitchell violin, Rosalind Ventris, viola, Peter Adams cello, Gloucester Music Society|
|16th October 2013||Howard Blake (piano), Madeleine Mitchell (violin), Leighton House, Kensington, 7.30
Wednesday 16 October 2013 75th birthday celebration of the local composer HOWARD BLAKE piano with MADELEINE MITCHELL violin BLAKE Penillion FRANCK Violin Sonata SCHUBERT Notturno (played by graduates of the Royal College of Music) BLAKE Violin Sonata
|24th August 2013||William Chen (piano ),Yang Song (violin), Piano and violin recital at China Europe International Business School, Shanghai
The recital will include the second movement of the Violin Sonata
|27th June 2010||Benjamin Scott (vn.) and Brad Clark (pno), The Lyceum,Washington Street, Alexandria, USA (Washington Metropolitan Philharmonic Association)3pm|
|9th February 2010||James Shenton, Chapel Royal, Brighton|
|27th January 2010||Violinist James Shenton, St Nicholas Church Brighton|
|28th October 2009||Howard Blake and Madeleine Mitchell in a programme devoted to Howard's music, Barnes Music Society
First London concert perfomance of the Violin Sonata
|29th July 2009||Tristan Gurney (violin), Howard Blake (piano), Alfriston Summer Music|
Review British composer Howard Blake is known in his native country for film scores, including that for the short animated feature The Snowman (1982). Even by that time, however, he had begun to cut back on writing film and television music in favor of concert pieces at a time hardly congenial for his conservative style. An intriguing feature of the chamber music presented here is that three of the four works are revised versions of works written in the mid-'70s; the fourth dates from 1974 and is presented in a recording made in that year. That recording sounds sonically out of place, but this little-known music -- all the pieces are world premieres -- is a nice find. Blake can certainly be classed with the neo-Romantics. Reportedly he was initially surprised to be compared with Dvorák, but here, in his own booklet notes, he quotes a critic who makes the comparison. Like that of his model, Blake's version of Romanticism avoids sentimentality and heavily relies on rhythmic interest. Blake excels in short forms. The Penillion for violin and piano, Op. 571, is a startlingly concise variation set (a penillion is a Welsh oral tradition of improvised verses), and perhaps the highlight of the whole disc is the group of Jazz Dances for violin and piano, Op. 520a. Originally written for two pianos and arriving in the current version via one for cello, these dances are not jazz in the Gershwin sense, but subtle rhythmic tweaks of popular rhythms that go beyond jazz to tango (Slow Ragtime, track 17) and even medium rock, which makes something consistently absorbing out of the simplest of rhythms. The larger works are closer to the Dvorák models, with vigorous dance themes overlaid with hints of chromaticism. A pleasing group of works for those who enjoy the new Romantic sound. ~ James Manheim, Rovi Performances Composer Title Time Howard Blake Violin Sonata, Op. 586 23:42 Howard Blake Penillion, for violin & piano, Op. 571 9:31 Howard Blake Piano Quartet, Op. 179 27:14 Howard Blake Jazz Dances, for violin & piano, Op. 520a 13:36 Previous:Howard Blake: Violin Concerto "The Leeds"Next:Howard Boatwright: String Quartet No. 2
james Manheim, AMG, 2011
Howard Blake’s Violin Sonata opens vibrantly but its poignant second subject alerts one to more sorrowful intimations, ones that are to recur as the sonata develops. Songfully lyric, it also embraces – in its slow movement – regretful intimacy. But Blake ensures that this is balanced by a more assertive and pained contrasting section before chimes usher in the tolling, elegiac reverie, one that ends on a sustained violin note. We are whisked away from this by the finale that freewheels virtuosically with the unabashed panache of a New Orleans funeral band returning from the graveside – but, again, not before some shimmering writing reflects on earlier material, recognising the skull beneath the skin, the loss in the laughter. It’s only when one reads that the work was dedicated to a sonata partner colleague of Blake’s, that splendid musician, the late Miles Baster – a prominent student of Albert Sammons and first violin of the Edinburgh String Quartet – that one realises the depths of utterance here. Blake hopes that Baster would have approved. Assuredly so, one thinks. This is a splendid work – at once, one senses, a violin treatise in expressivity and virtuosity, and also a subtle portrait of the impress of a lamented friend.
The Piano Quartet Op.179 is the other big work here, and it opens with Toreador brio. The corporate sonority of the group is absolutely splendid and conveys Blake’s music with total dedication. This actually is something of an anomalous recording, given that it was made back in 1974 in the Conway Hall with that arch-inspirer of a number of Blake’s chamber works, Jack Rothstein, leading the ensemble. The confident Scherzo carries on the extroversion with a cello pizzicato episode taken up by the piano in imitative drollery. There’s a classical formality about the writing and a winning generosity of spirit. There’s also a bell toll in the slow movement but it’s very different from the lament to Miles Baster in the sonata. Instead the lyricism is warm, unhurried and uncloying. Joie de vivre drives on the finale, with its ‘stand up straight’ fugato and brief folkloric hints. This is another really enjoyable work, unashamed in its generosity.
There are hints of Copland in the Jazz Dances for violin and piano but in the main these genial, atmospheric little pieces steer clear of anything too serious; they’re more dance-patterned than jazzy in any case: no Stuff Smith moments here. But do sample the witty Boogie movement – good fun. Penillion exists in variant instrumentation and is a theme and variations. Here it’s for violin and piano but there’s a bardic version for flute and harp. The violin version brings out the pseudo-Romanian/Carpathian qualities of it – lovely tumbling trills, plenty of badinage, a ghostly fifth variation, and a wistful close.
Madeleine Mitchell has assumed the Baster-Rothstein place in Blake’s violinistic firmament, and bravo to that, as she is a marvellously communicative and virtuosic performer and plays with great sympathy. The composer himself accompanies throughout and with brio, reflection and delight. The recording locations – Potton Hall now, Conway Hall then – are admirable. So is this disc.
Read more: http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2010/Jan10/Blake_sonata_8572083.htm#ixzz1D7aoeHam
Jonathan Woolf, music-web international, 10/1/2010
Released to coincide with his 70th birthday, this disk of, mainly, "recent" chamber works by Howard Blake is a welcome reminder that there is so much more to this interesting composer than Walking in the Air and a myriad of film and TV scores.
Whilst a student Blake formed a violin and piano duo with the late Miles Baster – it was after a recital they gave in Edinburgh, which ended with the Franck Sonata, that Baster was asked to form the Edinburgh Quartet (for whom Blake has recently completed a String Quartet for their 50th anniversary) – and they worked their way through the whole of the repertoire for their instruments. The Violin Sonata was written at the behest of Baster but as he left for Scotland and the new Quartet the work was abandoned with only a few sketches made. A decade later Jack Rothstein asked for a Sonata and the first version of the present work was written. But what we have here is a "ferociously" (Blake’s word) revised version, dedicated to the memory of Baster. Starting in a most unprepossessing way the music soon moves into typical Blakeian rhythmic and melodic mode, and the movement progresses in a dance–like manner, with short lyrical episodes breaking up the forward movement. Although this music doesn’t sound at all like Douglas Lilburn’s magnificent Violin Sonata (1950) it reminded me of that work because of its sheer determination of purpose. The slow movement which follows is distant and withdrawn, the music moving simply in a melodic line for the violin accompanied by a single line in the right hand of the piano and held chords in the left. An agitated and passionate middle section, with wide leaps for the fiddle, disturbs the calm but the opening section returns, a little more resigned and melancholic. The finale is a laconic and gently humorous piece, after a whirlwind start, which jumps from idea to idea without resting. This Violin Sonata is a very fine achievement and a worthy addition to the repertoire.
Penillion was originally written for violin and harp and exists in several different version – one for flute and harp is available on a disk of Blake’s chamber music, Meridian CDE84553. It’s in eight very short sections mixing lively and restrained music. As befits a penillion – a Welsh composition where an harpist accompanies him/herself whilst singing – these are songs without words, but the harmonies are far more modern than anything you’d hear in a real penillion. It’s an unpretentious, delicate piece.
That the Piano Quartet should be included here is of special significance for it was with this work that Blake made the conscious decision to cut back on his more commercial, and lucrative (!) film work and turn to the concert hall. Indeed so much is it a pivotal work in his catalogue that he turned down the opportunity to score Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon in favour of writing this work. The work was written for the performers playing here, who gave the première, in the Purcell Room, eight months after this recording was made. It’s a very classical work in the mould of Dvořák’s chamber works (a comment which shocked Blake when I mentioned it to him, for he had thought it to be rooted slightly earlier). No matter. It’s a fine work, strong themes, a well thought out design, very gratefully written for the instruments – Blake fully understand strings (he says he once played the fiddle badly). The scherzo, second, movement has a Mendelssohnian lightness and freshness about it, but the harmony belies anything pre–1940! The slow movement may come as a shock to anyone who knows Blake’s wonderful Piano Concerto (re–issued this month: October 2008, Sony 88697376972 review) for this is the Concerto’s slow movement in embryo. It’s very touching in this form, the emotion more restrained, the gestures smaller but no less moving. The finale is a country dance.
The Jazz Dances make a delightful collection of encore pieces, but they’re not jazz per se, rather jazzy pieces – in the way that the Blues in Ravel’s Violin Sonata is jazzy. It’s hard to believe that these pieces, which fit perfectly on to the combination of violin and piano, were originally written for two pianos! They are by turns fast and slow, one a blues, one a boogie, one a kind of popular song and so on. Like the Five Pieces, op.84 (1964) by his friend Malcolm Arnold any one of these miniatures would make very good encore pieces for they are most enjoyable and great fun.
This is a very enjoyable and exciting disk, not least for the superb Violin Sonata. Madeleine Mitchell is a committed advocate for this music and it is to be hoped that the Sonata, at the very least, will enter her regular repertoire. The composer himself is a sympathetic duo partner, and the sessions brought back, for him, the memories of his partnership with Baster and the joy and satisfaction of playing chamber music together.
Despite the fact that the recording of the Quartet dates from 34 years before the recordings of the other works, the sound is remarkably consistent and has a lovely, rich, ambiance and in the duo works there is a real feel of the concert room. The musicians are placed a little way from the microphone so as to put them in perspective with the acoustic.
Now Naxos has dipped its toe into the Blake catalogue might I make a plea for a disk of his music for string quartet? The public deserves to hear more of this endlessly fascinating and very interesting composer.
--Bob Briggs, MusicWeb International
Bob Briggs, music-web international, 2008