Richard Blackford Instrumental Works

I am a comparative latecomer to writing instrumental music, having devoted most of my creative life to choral and vocal composition. The works on this CD are all written over the last decade, with the exception of my Violin Concerto which plunders material from an incomplete Violin Sonata written when I was eighteen.

As well as the Violin Concerto this CD includes: my darkly chromatic Clarinet Quintet, The Better Angels Of Our Nature, a short concerto for oboe and strings; and Goodfellow, for flute, oboe and piano. They are presented chronologically and I hope the listener will detect a logical sequence in their development.

Richard Blackford, August 2016



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The clarinet Quintet is more engrossing in the way that its three movements outline an ultimate tragic narrative drawn from Caradog Pritchards’s novel Full Moon – hauntingly realised here. Inspired by Abraham Lincoln’s inaugural address, The Better Angels of Our Nature moves from a sombre introduction, via Allegro of mourning anxiety, to an interlude in which the Taps fanfare is intoned hauntingly by the oboist before a slow movement whose fraught tranquillity amply evokes the title. Emily Pailthorpe brings poise and eloquence to music written with her artistry in mind, and is no less inside the two pieces of Goodfellow. Shakespear’s Puck is duly made a focal point of a hectic tour across A Midsummer Night’s Dream where flute, oboe and piano enact a scenario as engaging as it is whimsical. Better Angels was previously released on a Champs Hill ‘portrat’ of Pailthorp but here finds a rather more effective context. The sound is fine in each case and this release further consolidates Blackford’s standing as an accessible yet never facile composer. Richard Whitehouse, Gramophone

The Violin Concerto opens with a trumpet solo that has an American feel to it. Some passages are also reminiscent of Copland and Barber with just a hint of Walton thrown in for good measure. The melodic material may be Russian in origin but the overall impression sounds as if the composer has been inspired by the English string music tradition. Vaughan Williams isn’t far away and the rapture of Tippett’s Corelli Fantasia can be heard in the chromatic harmonies produced by the divided strings. The opening to the final Vivace is reminiscent of folk music but this is Hungarian in nature rather than British. A rather beautiful, lyrical theme at the centre of the movement gives way to a cadenza and an exuberant sprint to the finish.

Although not strictly programme music, the three movements of the Clarinet Quintet are inspired by scenes from Caradog Prichard’s novel Full Moon. A soft lyrical theme links the three movements together. The second movement also makes use of the Welsh hymn tune Cyffamod with telling effect. The lively outer movements are bitter sweet in nature and the music, pregnant with ideas, always sounds as if it is going somewhere. The Better Angels of our Nature is another demonstration of the composer’s ability to write for the strings. The first section of this concerto is based on fanfare motifs, initially heard as distant cries and then building to a dynamic, fleet footed Allegro. After a brief climax the oboe plays a hushed version of the bugle call Taps that is traditionally used at funerals or at sunset. The ensuing section of peace and reconciliation is elegiac and creates the sort of atmosphere that can also be heard in Copland’s Quiet City. The last work on the disc, Goodfellow (aka Puck) is certainly Puckish in nature. The music is mischievous, entertaining and lively. There are also some passages of trance-like magic. The romantic duet for oboe and flute in the first movement is superb. You can’t keep a good man down for long though and Puck returns with a vengeance in the Allegro molto bringing the work to a quicksilver conclusion. This is a really enjoyable disc containing four memorable and entertaining pieces. The performances are all expertly done with fine contributions from the soloists. Although recorded at four different venues between 2008 and 2015 the sound quality is consistently fresh and appealing. John Whitmore, Musicweb-international

Sheet Music and Scores to support this release

NMP1017 Goodfellow, for flute, oboe and piano

NMP1005 The Better Angels of our Nature, for oboe and string orchestra

NMP1042 Polymetric Studies for solo piano

NMP1013 Within The Seed

NMP1003 Carnival of the Annimals (arrangement)

NMP1001 The Great Annimal Orchestra Symphony

The title of the single-movement quarter-hour oboe concerto that is The Better Angels of Our Nature is taken from a speech of reconciliation by Abraham Lincoln. The highly adept writing for strings has a fittingly American breath - rather reminiscent of Roy Harris at his outdoors best. It is a searing work although the oboe - here played by Emily Pailthorpe - redeems it with dancing urgency and with hushed majesty. Back to chamber music dimensions for Goodfellow. The music found its inspiration in the Puck of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. It's in two movements with the first a predominantly romping Stravinskian rush recalling the Petrushka pulse of the first movement of the Violin Concerto. The slightly more static introspection of the second gives way to a more temperate leaf-green and magical fancy but the piece ends with a return to the rhythmic virility of the earlier movement. There are full and useful notes from the composer - both a general foreword and more detailed essays on each work. Blackford, the composer for instrumental forces, presents his emotionally fluent music. It has depths as well as accessible oratory. It is well served here both in performance and engineering terms. Rob Barnett, MusicWeb-International

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