Sunday 29 June 2014

Welsh composer, Guto Pryderi Puw, proves to be an attractive and individual voice in orchestral works played by Jac van Steen and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales with oboist David Cowley on a new release from Signum Classics

Guto Pryderi Puw (b. 1971) studied music at the University of Wales, Bangor with composers John Pickard, Andrew Lewis and Pwyll ap Siôn, gaining a M.Mus degree in 1996 and completing his PhD in 2002. In 2006 he was appointed as a full time member of staff at the School of Music, Bangor University, concentrating mainly on composition and contemporary music. He has been the Artistic Director of the Bangor New Music Festival since its founding in 2000.

Puw won the Composer's Medal at the National Eisteddfod in 1995 and 1997 and his works have been broadcast on radio and TV.  In February 2006 he was appointed as the first Resident Composer with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales for whom he composed ‘…onyt agoraf y drws…’ (‘unless I open the door’) which was premiered at the BBC Proms in 2007, awarded best premiere of the season by BBC Music Magazine.

‘…onyt agoraf y drws…’ is one of five works by Guto Pryderi Puw that are included on a new release from Signum Records featuring the BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by Jac van Steen entitled Reservoirs.

Guto Pryderi Puw’s compositional language is closer to that of Alun Hoddinott than, for example, William Matthias yet he embraces a far wider range of stylistic influences. His compositions to date include choral and vocal works, orchestral works, chamber works, instrumental works and works for organ and piano.

‘…onyt agoraf y drws…’ (‘unless I open the door’) was inspired by the closing section of the Branwen tale from the a collection of Middle Welsh prose from the eleventh and the fourteenth centuries concerning the Welsh army returning from battle against the Irish and the subsequent events when they visit a Pembrokeshire hall where they are allowed to feast for eternity so long as they do not open the third of three doors in the hall.

This piece, commissioned by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and premiered by them under David Atherton, in 2007, opens with an orchestral outburst, repeated in an extended form, full of energy. The music falls briefly to a scurrying passage before re-gaining its energy. When the music again quietens, it retains a rhythmic drive. Soon a trumpet sounds above a hushed orchestra, perhaps a lament for the fallen. Delicate, hushed orchestral sounds appear creating a mysterious atmosphere. As the music slowly builds, a fiddle can be heard briefly before woodwind return us to the strange atmospheric world. There is a lovely translucence to this music here. Eventually there are louder outbursts with rising and falling phrases for strings. A celeste appears as the music appears static giving the feeling of time standing still. There are little woodwind flourishes and timpani strokes before the tam-tam heralds an outburst that seems to allow in the former violence and tragedy, presumably as the third door is opened and memories return. Sounds of a fiddle seem to emerge, within the orchestral texture, as the music calms and quietens. Quieter it may be but the orchestra still retains an agitated quality before a final outburst.

The Concerto ar gyfer Obo (Concerto for Oboe) was also commissioned by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and is dedicated to their principal oboist David Cowley , the soloist on this recording. Exploring the various characteristics of speech, language and dialect, this work won the BBC Radio 3 Listeners’ Award at the British Composer Awards in 2007.

In five movements, Rumour – moderato slowly rises up in the orchestra before the oboe joins in a little theme that develops into a broader melody to which the orchestra soon respond. Eventually the music becomes a little agitated but soon calms as the broader melody appears again with light percussion accompaniment before a sudden end. There is some exceptionally fine playing from David Cowley.

A rapid staccato theme opens Chatter – Allegro assai e molto ritmico against which sudden orchestral phrases are heard. The oboe eventually varies the opening theme, still keeping an unstoppable, insistent chattering quality until the final oboe flourish.

Lento tenerezza reflects the expressive quality of language and brings a gloriously flowing oboe melody supported by hushed strings. Here Puw shows us more clearly his rich melodic vein, exquisitely decorated with some wonderful harmonic touches in this the longest movement. Midway there is a particularly lovely orchestral passage before the oboe continues to lead us through its expressive outpouring and quiet timpani lead seamlessly into the Cadenza – ad lib, where the oboe improvises on the preceding material, though accompanied at times by the orchestra.

S…..s…s..stutter – Presto is introduced by a dynamic orchestral opening before the oboe enters hesitantly. Both oboe and orchestra provide staccato and rhythmically ‘stuttering’ phrases and some wild passages for a variety of orchestral instruments as this virtuosic movement works its way to its sudden and noisy conclusion.

This is a most attractive work that receives an excellent performance from David Cowley with very fine support from Jac van Steen and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales.

A commission by BBC Radio 3 for the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Reservoirs is the piece that gives the title to this disc. The work was inspired by a poem by R.S. Thomas, Reservoirs. Just an extract from this strong poem will give a good indication of the feelings behind this work:

There are places in Wales I don’t go:
Reservoirs that are the subconscious
Of a people, troubled far down
With gravestone, chapels, villages even
There is a violent opening with timpani thundering out before falling to a rather subdued, gloomy passage. The music rises but retains a dark hue with drooping strings adding to the feeling of underlying tension. There is a beauty here but muted by angst. There are rising and falling sounds, images of water, as the music progresses. This is brilliantly descriptive music, constantly shifting and changing in the orchestra. There are many orchestral details pointing up the deeper aspects of the flooding of Welsh valleys. The music gathers up elements of orchestral detail into a number of little orchestral climaxes as though flowing into larger expanses. Eventually the music quietens to one of Puw’s magical sections, full of atmosphere and orchestral calm, leading on to quiet, shifting sounds so evocative of ever changing vistas. A series of strident chords lead to a falling string motif that descends right down to the depths. A bell tolls, perhaps a submerged church or the mourning of a passing community.  Short stabbing brass sound out, before slowly and quietly we arrive at a hushed coda.

This is a very fine work, brilliantly played by Jac van Steen and the BBC NOW.

Hologram is, perhaps, the most abstract of Puw’s works on this disc. A long held phrase on woodwind opens before slowly and imperceptibly expanding. Delicate percussion sounds add to the texture as the music grows increasingly dynamic. As it does so, many new orchestral colours and textures appear, developing the theme. Such are the gentle and subtle sounds created; one is occasionally reminded of Olivier Messiaen’s sonorities.  Midway the music reaches a short climax before various instrumental sections overlay each other adding more depth and colour to the music, leading to a sustained brass phrase towards the end, complete with timpani roll, before the coda is reached.

Here Puw has created the most abstract piece on this disc, a glowing, ever changing piece, full of interest and, indeed, superb orchestral sounds.

There is a fast and furious opening to Agorawd ‘Torri’r Garreg’ (‘Break the Stone’ Overture) as the theme is pushed around the orchestra showing Puw’s ability to create an instantly appealing and dynamic overture. The music calms a little with rippling woodwind overlaid by brass before the frantic strings intrude and the music picks up to rush to the conclusion. 

This is a stunning little work brilliantly played by Jac van Steen and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales.

It is good to hear such an attractive and individual voice from Wales. The BBC National Orchestra of Wales under Jac van Steen are first rate as is the recording from the Hoddinot Hall, Cardiff Millenium Centre, Wales.

There are excellent booklet notes by the composer.


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