airsgraces TREM106

Airs and Graces
Walter Leigh (1905–1942)
Air (1942) 
Peter Lawson (b. 1951)
Song of the Lesser Butterfly Orchid (2017) 
Richard Harvey (b. 1953)
Concerto Incantato (2009) Duet Version
Peter Lawrence
Boccherini Macaroni (2000) 
Walter Leigh
Sonatina for Treble Recorder and Piano (1939) 
First recordings: Lawson, Lawrence
Miguel Lawrence (recorders)
Peter Lawrence, Jeremy Lawrence (piano)
rec. 2020/21, Germany, England
Tremula Records TREM106 [54]

Tremula have woken to fresh vitality after decades of silence since their most memorable production: there English string quartets (Rubbra’s Second, Phyllis Tate and Peter Wishart’s Third) on TREM102. Of late there have been two notable releases from Tremula and each involving the music of British composer Walter Leigh.

Young and capable recorder player, Miguel Lawrence, is at the centre of this release, alongside pianists Peter and Jeremy Lawrence. Miguel Lawrence matches up at every level to the demands of this music and clearly communicates triumphal pressure on his skills and artistic insights.

Walter Leigh (22 June 1905 – 12 June 1942) was an English composer. Leigh’s name is likely to be known for his light-as-air Concertino for harpsichord and string orchestra (1934). This I came to know through a Neville Dilkes HMV compendium of British orchestral favourites in the mid-1970s (EMI CSD 3705 and then on CD on EMI 5 67431 2). There are other Leigh works, many of which have now been recorded courtesy of Lyrita and other companies. He was well versed in composition and musical analysis through the tuition of Harold Darke and Cyril Rootham. Tremula have already recorded him once in the early 1990s and this is now joined by the present disc and by another from this label, Partings.

The placid little dream that is Walter Leigh’s Air makes its modest way with a quiet introspective confidence. The circumstances are poignant in that it was written in the year of his death in action at Tobruk in his twenties.

Peter Lawson’s Song of the Lesser Butterfly Orchid (2017) – here receiving its premiere recording – is cut from different cloth. It bubbles and floats in a brisk breeze. It’s always melodious but cuts a toe-tapping velocitous and felicitous path across three little movements:  Introduction and Butterfly Rumba; Butterfly Minuet and Jig of the Moths and Butterflies. It’s an innocent jape all round with a jazzy flavour in the finale.

Richard Harvey’s Concerto Incantato (2009) for recorder and two pianos appears in a version that has been magicked from the concerto Harvey wrote for the other great recorder player, Michala Petri. Perhaps eccentrically, this is in five movements: Sortilegio; Natura Morta; Danza Spiriti; Canzone Sacra; Incantesimi. This is a work of substantiality: emotions and duration. The melody of the Lawson is there but there is also a probing emotional depth and some sinister experimentation (as in tr. 6).  Natura Morta is well versed in the funeral cortege but is not glum; more weighed down with grief. Flashing and sparkling music explodes in the Danza Spiriti but this aspect contrasts with something veering towards a rumba in the centre. Back to things of gravity for Canzone Sacra – a title that Rubbra might have used/coveted. There is nothing here of cock-of-the rock display.  A tune appears but this is in the nature of a Pavan. The dragonfly incessant Incantesimi is close to mesmerising but soon discards the repetitive element and sings along happily. Like a certain lark it escapes to dizzying heights.

Peter Lawrence contributes his Boccherini Macaroni (2000), a fairly lengthy duo built from a point of departure that is none other than Boccherini’s famous Minuetto. This is not a work for purists as it butterflies its way amongst idioms distributed across the centuries – Warlock, de Falla, Jazz and Rag-Time. The Boccherini original suffers no hurt, for it is a resilient little thing, but Lawrence provides us with an enjoyable little freewheeling fantasy that induces smiles and charms.

The eight-minute Sonatina (1939) by Leigh is a little treasure and rejoices in melodious depths and rooted emotions. This is a delightful thing of melancholy, tranquil reflection and subtle joys – a bejewelled creation which like everything here has been nicely and neatly recorded.

The War in North Africa, and elsewhere, saw the deaths of three British composers, including Leigh. The little-mentioned, Rudolph Arnold Dolmetsch should not be overlooked. Rudolph came from a great recorder family – which makes some linkage with the present disc.  It should be borne in mind that the recorders played here bear Dolmetsch’s name, as did the ones at my school in Torquay; they did not deserve the ignominious fate they met in my hands, lips and lungs.

Rudolph was eldest son of Arnold Dolmetsch. Rudolph established his own orchestra which was led by Olive Zorian. He wrote two symphonies and three concertos. His orchestral Spring Tidings was broadcast by the BBC, as also was his completion of the Borodin Third Symphony (BBCSO/composer, 27 July 1936). He served in the Royal Artillery and was lost at sea when the HMS Ceramic was torpedoed in mid-Atlantic on 6/7 December 1942.

Another war death that year sang a saddening note for family and for British music. This time the young victim was Michael Savage Heming (1920-1942). To date Heming’s music has only registered obliquely and that has been through Anthony Collins’ editing together of various of Heming’s musical sketches into a work called Threnody for a Soldier Killed in Action. This was recorded by EMI and Barbirolli in 1945 with the Hallé. Heming was killed at El Alamein in 1942, aged 22. Collins, it should be noted, also wrote a stormy Elgar Elegy.

The present collection nicely complements two others, one from that ubiquitous doyen of British recorderists (John Turner), and the other a Gordon Jacob collection from Naxos and Annabel Knight.

Virtuosic brilliance on offer from Kenrick Dance’s Tremula label like all enjoyable things leaves you regretting that the programme could not have included more of that ilk. Meantime this is an essential complement to those of you who have already found Tremula TREM 101-2, published in 1992 and including piano music and several songs as well as Music for Three Pianos and Three Waltzes for two pianos.

Rob Barnett

Availability: Birnam CD Shop