Richard Blackford: Blewbury Air

Blewbury Air, written in the summer of 2019, is a love song to the village of Blewbury, Oxfordshire, where I have lived for many years. Our house is on a small lake in the heart of the village, and is teeming with wildlife throughout the year, especially different species of waterfowl. The descriptive titles of the three movements reflect the contrasting moods of each movement. Blewbury Air was first performed by Raphael Wallfisch and Adrian Farmer and recorded in the Wyastone Studio on June 5th 2020 during the COVID19 pandemic. Being the first time the musicians had been able to play together for months during the lockdown, it was a very special day of music-making for me, the performers, and the technical staff at Nimbus Records, to whom I am most grateful.



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Nimbus seems to be quite keen on its CD EPs at the moment, but this one is very brief indeed. Richard Blackford's Blewbury Air is "a love song to the village of Blewbury, Oxfordshire, where I have lived for many years."

Richard Blackford's distinguished career includes recordings in Nimbus of a Violin Concerto (review), his vocal/orchestral work Not in our time (review), and The Great Animal Orchestra Symphony (review). Fans will be happy to add this not insubstantial piece of chamber music to their collections… This is well-crafted and accessible music, and of course is superbly performed and recorded.

Music Web International – Classical Review



Blewbury Air: the delicate Blewbury Air for cello and piano forms an oasis of comparative calm. It is a heartfelt and lovely reflection on the composer's home village in Oxfordshire, and its three movements exactly reflect their titles: By the water's edge, Incantation with bells and The wind in the branches… It need hardly be added that Raphael Wallfisch and Adrian Farmer give entirely sympathetic performances of another marvellous piece.


Music Web International – Classical Review


On 5 June 2020, cellist Raphael Wallfisch and pianist Adrian Farmer performed at Wyastone Studios, home of Nimbus Records. It was the first time the two had been able to play together since lockdown. The work they were performing was for a new recording, of Richard Blackford's Blewbury Air, and the recording has now been released on the Nimbus Alliance label. Richard Blackford describes Blewbury Air as a love-song to the village of Blewbury in Oxfordshire, which is where Blackford lives. Lasting around 12 minutes, the three movement work is explicitly descriptive and each movement has an evocative title, 'By the water's edge', 'Incantation with bells', and 'The wind in the branches', and they reflect Blackford's intention to depict the lake near his house which teems with wildlife. The first movement starts of vividly passionate, with a strong cello melody giving plenty of scope for Wallfisch's singing tone. Later the movement dies away but keeps the cello in focus. In form, it is a rondo, but Blackford transforms his material thus holding the interest. The second movement starts with a striking moment for solo cello, before the piano comes in with the evocative bells of the title. Blackford alternates these two, rhapsodic cello and bell-like piano, developing them and making them interact and creating quite a stir before evocative calm is restored at the end. The short finale is fast and not a little furious. We caught the London premiere of Richard Blackford's Pieta in October 2019. Blackford is an interesting composer. Born in 1954 he is one of a generation who trained in modernism (Blackford was, for a period, assistant to Hans Werner Henze) but turned their back on it and moved into other areas, and whose more traditional compositional voice has emerged more slowly. Blackford has a significant catalogue of film, TV and theatre work, but more recently has concentrated on concert music, creating a distinctive voice with remarkable success. This new piece is tonal, yet full of interest and finely constructive. Its length makes it a prime candidate for recitals. The recording is available direct from Nimbus, and the printed music is also available for purchase from Nimbus Music Publishing.


Planet Hugill


Blewbury Air has three short movements. The first is ‘By the Water’s Edge’ and it’s entirely appropriate that much of the piano part in particular is rippling in character. Right at the outset we hear a wide-ranging and generous cantabile melody voiced by the cello. This very attractive idea recurs several times. Elsewhere, there’s a good deal of busy writing for both instruments. It’s a very attractive movement and one that effortlessly conveys watery images to the listener.

The central movement is ‘Incantation with Bells’. First, we hear what the composer describes as “a wistful, pentatonic cello theme”. That’s unaccompanied. When the piano begins to play you won’t be surprised to learn that the instrument plays bell-like chords; indeed, a substantial amount of the piano’s contribution throughout mimics the sound of bells. The cello’s melodic lines in this movement are plaintive in character. The two instruments combine and eventually achieve an intense and powerful climax. It seems to me that there’s a considerable amount of feeling behind this music.

The final movement, ‘The Wind in the Branches’ is much the shortest. Both instruments have vigorous material; this wind is very energetic. It seemed to me that the music evokes the impression of the wind that blows in autumn, dislodging the leaves from the trees.

Richard Blackford has made a short YouTube film in which he introduces Blewbury Air. I deliberately refrained from watching that until this review was nearly finished because I wanted to form my own impressions of the music. Interestingly, though the third movement suggested to me an autumn wind the images we see in the film show trees in full leaf during the summer; that just goes to show that we can all respond to music in different ways. I’d recommend watching the film. Each movement is discussed and you’ll hear extracts from the music. Crucially, you’ll see some of the village scenes that inspired Blewbury Air.
Richard Blackford’s tribute to his home village is an attractive and well-imagined composition. He could scarcely wish for finer advocacy than Raphael Wallfisch and Adrian Farmer provide in their excellent performance.


Music Web International - Classical Review

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