Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Piano works of real depth and substance by Marcus Blunt, finely played by Murray McLachlan on a release from Divine Art’s Diversions label

Marcus Blunt (b. 1947) www.scottishmusiccentre.com/members/marcus_blunt/home was born in Birmingham and from around the age of nine had piano lessons from his father whilst making his first attempts at composition.  He went on to study composition at University College of Wales, Aberystwyth before settling in Derby as a teacher of woodwind instruments. In 1990 he moved to Scotland where the Dumfries Music Club appointed him as their Hon. Composer-in-Residence.

In July 2002 he was a featured composer at the Victoria International Arts Festival, Gozo (Malta), in 2004 he was commissioned to write a Fanfare to open the Dumfries & Galloway Silver Arts Festival and in 2009 his Two Serenades for violin, clarinet, cello & piano were chosen for inclusion in the London Schubert Players’ EU-funded Invitation to Composers project, with performances in Edinburgh, Paris and Namsos, Norway.

Marcus Blunt’s compositions include choral works, orchestral works including two symphonies, chamber works, works for brass, instrumental works and piano works and have been performed internationally by artists such as the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble, the Joachim Piano Trio, and Kathryn Stott.

Divine Art Recordings www.divine-art.co.uk have just released, on their Diversions label, a recording of Marcus Blunt’s piano music played by Murray McLachlan  www.murraymclachlan.co.uk , previously issued by Dunelm Records in 2006 and which includes his three piano sonatas.

 
Diversions
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The Life Force (Sonata No.3) (1988 rev. 1994) has a tonally free flowing opening that leads to a slightly more tentative section as the music subtly develops in this attractive seven minute sonata. The sonata builds to an intense, flowing climax towards the end, with music of some virtuosity before sudden spread chords conclude the work.

This is a beautifully constructed sonata that is immensely enjoyable.

Seven Preludes (1967-79) commence with Passacaglia which works up from a simple theme through a slow build-up of contrapuntal layers back to its opening simplicity. Theme has a broad motif repeated, rising upward before the Variation (Jiglet) provides a lighter, dancing variation of the theme. Homage to Scarlatti has a freedom within Scarlatti’s model that is most appealing, a really enchanting piece as it dances around. Homage to Scriabin I has a gently swaying melody that is developed around a left hand melody and is something of a little gem. Homage to Scriabin II brings us to Scriabin’s later more mystic style, soon building in drama and clashing chords. A short but very evocative piece. ‘Adieu’ is a rather unsettled farewell that acts as a dramatic coda to the set.

A visit to Iona inspired the Iona Prelude (1982) and the following Iona Caprice (1982). A rising motif opens the Prelude, which is repeated in various guises in this elusive but appealing piece. The Caprice is a more florid miniature that ends abruptly.

Sonata No.2 (1977 / 1998 rev 2006) opens with Elegy where slow chords move the music steadily forward as a motif for right hand weaves around the chords. The music becomes more hesitating and darker with hints of John Ireland in his more mystic moments. It begins to rise up slowly, becoming more impassioned before quietening and becoming more peaceful to end. A halting little motif opens the Scherzo that eventually becomes freer, though the opening motif keeps re-appearing and, indeed, re-appears at the end. Fantasia has a slightly dancing quality that is soon over shadowed as the music becomes sadder. The dancing theme re-appears intermittently but is always overshadowed by music of a more serious vein. There are Scriabinesque bold intervals as the music rises in passion. The dancing theme appears again before a decisive coda.

This is another fine sonata brilliantly played by Murray McLachlan.

The Three Nocturnes were written between 1987 and 2001. Malta Nocturne seems to use similar intervals as the Fantasia of the preceding sonata, perhaps a Blunt trademark. This is a particularly lovely little piece, so sensitively played by Murray McLachen. The gentle November Nocturne, a birthday gift for a friend, based on the musical letter derived from his name, grows in strength before its quiet coda. Likewise, the Nocturne on the name FRAnk BAyFoRD, a slightly more extended piece, was a sixtieth birthday present for a friend, which grows organically from the note sequence that uses the conventional note letters as well as the Tonic Sol-Fa names (e.g. R = Ray).

Marcus Blunt’s Sonata No.1 (1972 / 2006) is in two movements, a Fantasia (Allegro), a fast and forward flowing with the composer’s distinctive intervals before falling to a quiet end on three repeated chords and Variations (Adagio), which seems to rise out of the Allegro and uses all twelve notes of the scale creating a sense of mystery and uncertainty before moving through a range of emotions and musical motifs including repeated, insistent chords that add drama and intensity,  lovely flowing, rippling passages that lighten the mood as well as virtuoso chords before quieting darkly with low chords at the end.

This is a work of real depth and substance, beautifully constructed and given a fine performance by Murray McLachlan.

Prelude on a fugue theme by J S Bach (2000) was taken from Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in D major BWV 874 and written as a tribute to Bach in his 250th Anniversary year. It is tiny but very effectively done in the way Blunt works around the theme.
Finally we come to Three Fantasies (1992/2001/2006) all derived from the musical letters of the respective names. The first, Fantasy on SCRiABin has a wonderfully flowing theme that is created from the note sequence and oddly reminiscent of Scriabin. It is played with terrific sensitivity and a lovely touch with delicate shadings. It is a striking work that took second place in the Purcell Composition Prize in 1995.

The Fantasy on the name GABRiEL FAURÉ is another fine, flowing work on that, nevertheless, has an underlying strength. It was written for that fine pianist, Kathryn Stott who is something of a specialist in Fauré’s piano music.

The last of these fantasies is a Fantasy on the name MURRAy MCLaCHLan written for Murray McLachlan for this recording. It is a fine piece that weaves a lovely tapestry around the underlying musical note sequence, building to a dramatic coda with some fine playing from McLachlan.

Blunt is extremely lucky in his pianist Murray McLachen who does so much to bring out all the beauties and attractions of these works. The recording is excellent and there are booklet notes by the composer.

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