ARNOLD GRILLER (b.1937): Ensemble Seventeen for Small Orchestra, Concerto for Clarinet and String Orchestra, Distant Villages for Violas, Cellos, Keyboard Instruments and Pitched Percussion.
Catalogue Number: 10T072
Label: Toccata Classics
Reference: TOCC 0424
Description: Griller is the son of Sidney, of Griller Quartet fame, so he was immersed in music from his very earliest years, and surrounded and encouraged by many of the musical luminaries of the time. He subsequently honed his craft in England, the USA and France before settling in Canada and later returning to England. Ensemble Seventeen is a work of kaleidoscopic changes - abrupt changes of mood seem to be a Griller trademark - in a variably dissonant compendium of tonal styles which notably derive from Stravinsky, an early influence, and include well-disguised references to his French years - Ravel and Milhaud, Griller's teacher. The music has undeniable humorous content, like the hybrid waltz-habanera that develops into an irritable ostinato pattern, but it can turn on a dime away from this to sections of genuine pathos, drama, tension or melodic eloquence. The ooncerto is in three sections, bearing the Romantic-sounding titles "Dawn", "Spring" and "Into the Night", though the rather abrasive nature of the first two 'movements' belies the apparent programmatic connotations of the titles. There is something intense, unsettling and strenuous about this music, despite a semi-humorous episode for strings in the brisker, scherzo-like second movement that suggests a sheepdog harrying sheep (the composer's notation in the score). The last movement is entirely different; the soloist's sad song is surrounded by a static, strained aura of high string chords in a moving threnody; it is clear what sort of 'night' the protagonist is gently going into. The 'Distant Villages' are those with wonderfully eccentric and rather mysterious names encountered just off one's path on a drive through south-western England. The music has a taut rhythmic drive, and the odd orchestration and a certain shadowy obsessiveness hints at arcane and archaic rituals still practiced in the deceptively picturesque English landscape. This would make ideal incidental music for readings of M.R. James' profoundly unsettling ghost stories. Denis Myasnikov (clarinet), Musica Viva; Alexander Walker.