RICHARD BLACKFORD (b.1954): Niobe for Violin and Orchestra (Tamsin Waley-Cohen [violin], Czech Philharmonic Orchestra; Ben Gernon), Kalon for String Quartet and Orchestra (Albion Quartet, Czech PO; Jiři Rožeň, Blewbury Air for Cello and Piano (Raphael Wallfisch [cello], Adrian Farmer [piano]).
Catalogue Number: 05W061
Reference: NI 6420
Description: These recordings of Blackford's characteristically accessible, basically tonal works were previously released as "singles", but if you missed them the first time around, this disc usefully brings them together in an appealing, varied program. A 25-minute violin concerto in four movements, Niobe tells the story of the wife of King Amphion of Thebes, who boasted of her progenitive superiority to the Titan, Leto, and was punished by the death of her children and her husband, and her own petrification. Blackford uses a combination of thematic transformation and an extended sonata form to present the drama in terms of a finely crafted musical argument which is formally satisfying in its own right, aside from the full-blooded neo-romantic dramatic intensity with which it illustrates of the programmatic narrative. Kalon is a 25-minute suite of three movements, highly approachable and essentially Romantic in concept. It abounds in diversity and variety in a tonally stable context, energized by rhythmic complexity resulting from the tension between the concertante group and the orchestra. The first movement material is based on a recording made by the composer of a three-stringed Cretan lyra, transcribed for the quartet, and thus sounds modal and very southern-European in inflection. The central slow movement is the heart of the piece; it draws inspiration from the Cavatina of Beethoven’s Op.130. In this movement the quartet and orchestra are constantly at odds, never synchronized and thus leading to some clashing conflicts. The final movement, 'Stile concitato', uses that strenuous Baroque style of rapid repeated notes to form music that phases in and out of synchronization between the two groups, whose material is barred independently, creating distinct, parallel layers that bring the work to an exhilarating conclusion. Blewbury Air is a delightful example of warmly expressive English pastoralism at its best, depicting the area where the composer has lived for many years. With a distinctive feeling of English folksong modality, it illustrates the gentle landscape, distant evening church bells, and squally weather in hugely appealing music that recalls Moeran, or maybe Bax. Kalon previously issued in 2019 (10V053).