Pavlova presents – our new CD

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PAVLOVA presents… new arrangements for wind quintet

Listen to Sainsbury Cuban Dance no 1

See Review in Double Reed News Autumn 2017 by Meyrick Alexander
‘ No raspberries for this Pavlova! ‘

Our new CD is now available to purchase. Email us or use this pavlova-presents-cd-order-form to buy a copy (£10 plus £2.50 postage).

The group’s flautist, Christopher Britton, is a gifted arranger. He has made arrangements for Pavlova over the years when a work, often originally for piano, has struck him as a particularly suitable candidate for wind quintet. Pavlova loves to perform these pieces and is proud to showcase Chris’s talents. A couple of delightful but little-known pieces by other arrangers have crept into this selection of Pavlova’s favourite concert pieces, all of which were originally written for other combinations of instruments.
Christopher Britton – flute Carolyn King – oboe Barbara Stuart – clarinet Jenny Morgan – horn Simon Payne – bassoon

Recorded on 21 and 22 August 2016 in Wesley Memorial Church, Oxford. Recording engineer Nick Daisley

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  1     George Butterworth (1885-1916) arr. Lisa Portus:  The Banks of Green Willow

George Butterworth is probably the best-known English composer who was killed during the First World War. Fearing that he would not survive it and endlessly self-critical, he destroyed any of his works that he thought inferior before he went away to fight. His fame rests mainly on three works: his settings of Houseman’s poem A Shropshire Lad, an orchestral rhapsody with the same title, and his orchestral ‘idyll’ The Banks of Green Willow, written in 1913. Butterworth started composing very early, taking his first music lessons from his mother. While at Eton he wrote a number of pieces that were performed in school concerts there. He then on to study at Trinity College, Oxford, where he met the pioneer English folksong collector Cecil Sharp and the composer Ralph Vaughan-Williams, with whom he later went around the English countryside noting down (occasionally using an Edison phonograph) folksongs that they thought in danger of being forgotten. He also met there the future conductor Adrian Boult, whose first professional engagement in 1914 involved conducting the premiere of The Banks of Green Willow. Butterworth became a keen folk dancer, and was a professional Morris dancer. He went on to teach music at Radley College, a well-known school a few miles south of Oxford, where there is a superb memorial to him in engraved glass. He joined up with the British army at the outbreak of World War 1 In 1914 and won the Military Cross during the early part of the Battle of the Somme in July 1916. On 5th August, the next month, he was killed by sniper fire at the age of 31. His body was immediately buried by his platoon in a make-shift grave, but has not been recovered since. His commanding officer was surprised to find out that he had been a very promising composer, saying of him: ‘He was a brilliant musician in times of peace, and an equally brilliant soldier in times of stress’.

The two songs used in The Banks of Green Willow were collected in Sussex in 1907. The second is called ‘Green Bushes’ (or ‘Lost Lady Found’) and was used by Vaughan-Williams and Percy Grainger in later works, while the main song, which gives the piece its title, has somewhat grim words somewhat at odds with the overall English idyllic sound-world of the work. The story goes that a farmer’s daughter falls in love with a sea-captain. She becomes pregnant by him and decides to run away to sea after stealing money from her parents. She gives birth on board the ship, but there are difficulties with no help at hand. Knowing that she is going to die she asks her lover to bind a napkin around her head and throw her and her child overboard. Rather shockingly, he agrees. He then sings a lament for his ‘true love, whom I once loved so dearly, and who shall be buried on the banks of green willow’. The work is now considered an anthem to all ‘Unknown Soldiers’ of the War.

Edward Elgar (1857-1934) arr. John Newhill: Three miniatures

2    Chanson de Matin
3    La Capricieuse
4    Salut d’Amour

As a composer Elgar was a comparative late developer. If he had died at the age that Butterworth (and Schubert) did he would barely warrant a mention in dictionaries of music. It was not until he was in his forties that he achieved fame with larger scale works like the Enigma Variations (1899) and the oratorio The Dream of Gerontius (1900). Up to this time he was a composer of charming miniatures such as these, all originally for violin and piano. Chanson de Matin was probably written in 1889 or 1890 but was not published till 1899, serving as a companion piece to Chanson de Nuit published two years before. The orchestration of these two pieces in 1901 helped their popularity enormously. Chanson de Matin has a particularly fresh and enchanting melody, which, while not as profound as the Chanson de Nuit, endeared itself quickly to audiences and makes its adaptation to wind instruments very fitting.

The title of La Capricieuse, composed for violin and piano in 1891, refers to a girl or woman who is moody, inconstant or whimsical, reflected in the flighty main theme and the ultra-romantic middle section. As Elgar was a trained violinist (and had originally wanted to be a concert artist) the piece was contrived to fall very much under the fingers – perhaps rather less so for wind-players despite John Newhill’s arranging skills.

Salut d’Amour was composed in 1888 as an engagement present for his future wife, Caroline Alice Roberts, and originally had a German title (Liebesgruss  – Love’s Greeting). It was dedicated ‘To Carice’, a contraction of her first two names, which name was given to their daughter. Elgar made three versions of this piece: for solo piano, violin and piano, and for orchestra. It shows Elgar at his most tender and, like the Chanson de Matin, lends itself very easily to performance on wind instruments.

5    Edward Grieg (1843-1907) arr. Christopher Britton:    Wedding Day at Troldhaugen  

In the second half of the 19th century European classical music was heavily dominated by Germany. It was therefore quite natural for the Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg to study in the musical centre of Leipzig. He impressed Liszt (who taught there), and later Tchaikovsky (who was on a visit to the city) with his ability to compose music of substantial emotional content that had an immediately discernible Norwegian flavour. While he was one of many nationalist composers of the time (such as Dvorak, Sibelius, and later, Bartok and Vaughan-Williams), he always remained outward-looking and considered his music European rather than narrowly Scandinavian. He was an early example of an artist taking a political/moral stance: he refused to visit France in 1899 for a concert tour in protest against the anti-Semitism exhibited there by the Dreyfus Affair. While his Piano Concerto in A minor and the Peer Gynt Suite remain enduringly popular, it is perhaps in his miniature pieces for piano that Grieg is most effective, particularly in the 66 Lyric Pieces for piano published in ten volumes. One of the best-known ones is in Book 8: Wedding Day at Troldhaugen, written in 1896 to celebrate his 25th wedding anniversary. Troldhaugen (‘Troll Mound’) was the house that Grieg had built for himself just outside Bergen, and which now houses a museum to his memory. The opening section is exuberant and joyful, and depicts the arrival of the guests who are offering congratulations and best wishes. The middle section is calmer and more reflective and contains some of Grieg’s most beautiful music. The imitative calling cries out for the sonorities of different instruments that the medium of the wind quintet naturally provides.

6       André Caplet (1878-1925) arr. Christopher Britton:    Rêverie

André Caplet is best known today as a close associate of Debussy, whose works he orchestrated and conducted. He was a highly original composer in his own right, however, winning the Prix de Rome in 1901 (beating Ravel!). He wrote mainly for voice (songs and choral works), but also for orchestra and for chamber groups, including Rêverie and Petite Valse for flute and piano, the first of which is here recorded for the first time in an arrangement for wind quintet. Written in 1897, the Rêverie displays advanced Debussy-style harmonies. The outer sections have a yearning, almost brooding quality, while the slower middle section is more positive and with ravishing impressionistic key-changes similar to Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune. Caplet served as a soldier in the First World War, but was gassed and died of the resulting injury to his lungs a few years afterwards.

Ivor Gurney (1890-1937) arr. Christopher Britton:   Five Preludes

7     No 1 in F# major 1
8     No 2 in A minor
9     No 3 in D major
10     No 4 in F# major
11     No 5 in D major

Gloucester-born Ivor Gurney displayed exceptional talents as a musician in his youth, going on to study at the Royal College of Music under Charles Villiers Stanford, the teacher of Vaughan-Williams, Frank Bridge and Arthur Bliss amongst others. He was declared the ‘biggest of them all’ by Stanford, but also ‘unteachable’ because of his volatile personality and deep mood swings, which plagued him all his life and led to him spending the last 15 years of his life in a mental hospital. He is now remembered however as one of the great WW1 poets, with much of his poetry written while he was a soldier at the front. He was wounded and gassed in 1917 and invalided out of the war. While his poetry is celebrated, his musical compositions (songs, orchestral pieces, chamber music) have received less attention, with nearly two-thirds of them being unpublished and unrecorded. His piano preludes, here arranged for wind quintet, were written in 1919 and 1920, in a rich, late-Romantic style, quite untouched by either the current vogue for folk music or the acerbic style of the modern neo-Classical composers. They are delicate miniatures, full of tenderness and redolent of Schumann, yet somehow still as English as Elgar.

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovksy (1840-1893)  arr. Christopher Britton:  Three pieces from ‘The Seasons’

12     June  –  ‘Barcarolle’
13     November –  ‘Troïka’
14     December  –  ‘Christmas’

Tchaikovsky was called ‘the most Russian of all composers’ by Stravinsky. Though he was not an avowed musical nationalist, unlike the members of the ‘Five’ (such as Rimsky-Korsakov and Borodin), his music expresses the yearning and overwhelming sadness of the Russian spirit even in music which is overtly cheerful.

In 1875 Tchaikovsky was commissioned to write a series of 12 piano pieces for a monthly musical magazine called Nouvellist that was published in St Petersburg. Each edition during 1876 featured a new piece appropriate to the time of year. The editor supplied each of them with a subtitle and a short poem (January features one by Pushkin, no less!). The resulting suite was published as opus 37a The Seasons. The most popular ones are June and November (the latter was a favourite encore of Rachmaninov). At the time of their composition Tchaikovsky’s 1st Piano Concerto had just been given its first performance, and he was working on the ballet Swan Lake. There have been many arrangements of these pieces, especially June, both for orchestra and for diverse solo instruments. Tchaikovsky was not mainly a piano composer but tended to think orchestrally, thus making the task of transcribing for wind quintet relatively easy. When playing his piano pieces you are constantly aware of allusions to orchestral sonorities. June reminds one slightly of Mendelssohn’s Venetian Gondola pieces in his Songs without Words, November features jingling sleigh bells, while December is a salon waltz much in the style of his grand ballet ones.

Here are the epigrams for the three pieces presented here:

June:    ‘Let us go to the shore; there the waves will kiss our feet.

With mysterious sadness the stars will shine down upon us.’    (Alexei Pleshcheyev)

 

November:    ‘In your loneliness do not look at the road, and do not rush out after the troika.

Suppress at once and forever the fear of longing in your heart’.    (Nicolai Nekrasov)

 

December:     ‘Once upon a Christmas night the girls were telling fortunes:

Taking their slippers off their feet and throwing them out of the gate.’

(Vassily Zhukovsky)

 

Lionel Sainsbury (1958-) arr. by the composer:  Two Cuban Dances

15     I – Allegretto
16     II – Comodo

This is an arrangement made especially for the Pavlova Quintet by the English composer Lionel Sainsbury of his two piano pieces dating from 1991. Sainsbury’s music has been described by the press as “striking”, “passionate”, “ethereal”, “beautifully crafted” and full of “beautiful musical ideas”. Born in Wiltshire, England, he started to play the piano at an early age, and soon began to compose his own music. He studied privately and at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, where he won the major prizes for composition, and while still a student was also awarded the UK’s prestigious Mendelssohn Scholarship at the age of 21. He has written large-scale works for piano (he himself is a virtuoso pianist), often in a Latin-American idiom, as well as a violin concerto (recorded in 2002 by Lorraine McAslan and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra) and a cello concerto (recorded in 2012 by Raphael Wallfisch and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra).

The languid Cuban Dance no.2 was also arranged by the composer for violin and piano, and is featured on violinist Tasmin Little’s CD of virtuoso encore pieces, ‘Tchaikovskiana’, released on EMI Classics for Pleasure in September 2003. It has become a frequent encore piece for the violinist, Tasmin having performed it all over the world since premiering it in 1992. The work has also recently been recorded by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia in London in the composer’s own orchestration. His expert version for wind quintet of both dances is notable for the rich orchestral sonorities he creates from the medium.

George Gershwin (1898-1937) arr. Christopher Britton:  Three Preludes

17     Prelude I – Allegro ben ritmico e deciso
18     Prelude II – Andante con moto e poco rubato
19     Prelude III – Allegro ben ritmico e deciso

While his older brother Ira was having formal piano lessons George Gershwin was running around the streets of Brooklyn being something of a tearaway! It was not until he was ten years old, when he heard a friend give a violin recital, that he suddenly became interested in music. He had a slow start to his piano tuition as it took a while to find a suitable teacher. Progress was thereafter extremely rapid, with George learning substantially through watching the movements of the keys on a mechanical piano! He left school at 15 and became a ‘song plugger’ in a music store demonstrating new songs on the piano, which honed his ability to play by ear and improvise. He wrote his first song in 1916, earning 50 cents, but it was his 1919 song Swanee that launched his career. The singer Al Jolson heard him play it at a party and asked if he could sing it. In the early 1920’s he wrote a series of light musicals, sometimes with his brother Ira as librettist, but his career was given a huge boost with his 1924 composition for piano and swing band, Rhapsody in Blue. Other orchestral compositions followed, including An American in Paris (1928) and the F major Piano Concerto. Perhaps his most enduring masterpiece was his opera Porgy and Bess (1935), initially something of a flop, but later considered one of the greatest American theatrical works of the 20th century.

Gershwin was that typically American phenomenon, a composer who wanted to bridge the gap between popular and classical music. Originally a ‘tin-pan alley’ composer he soon developed an ambition to write serious classical-style pieces, albeit in the contemporary popular jazz and ragtime idiom. His attempts to take composition lessons with luminaries like Nadia Boulanger in Paris and the composer Maurice Ravel were thwarted. Both refused to teach him, not because they thought him sub-standard, but because they felt they may ruin his natural facility in producing works of art in a popular idiom. Ravel told him: ‘Why be a second-rate Ravel when you can be a first-rate Gershwin?’  Gershwin was highly aware and admiring of contemporary ‘serious’ composers like Schoenberg, Stravinsky and Berg. When he approached Schoenberg for lessons he was given a rather similar answer to Ravel’s. Nevertheless, Gershwin’s compositions became more and more sophisticated in harmony and form. In Porgy and Bess there are compositional devices such as fugue and passacaglia that go well beyond the normal techniques of a writer of musicals.

The Three Preludes for piano of 1926 were the only piano compositions of Gershwin to be published in his lifetime. None of them is actually in the swing-style normally associated with the composer. The first is a Brazilian baião, first introduced by a sleazy clarinet with a short five-note statement, then answered with a sly wink by French horn. The second prelude is what Gershwin described as a ‘sort of blues lullaby’. The main melody is first heard in this arrangement on the oboe d’amore (a minor 3rd lower and mellower in tone than the regular oboe, and much favoured by J.S. Bach) over swirling chromatic chords enriched here by the presence of the alto flute. A brief middle section features the bassoon imitating a jazz trombone. Jagged, syncopated chords, again in Latin-American style, open the 3rd prelude, then the bright-sounding E flat clarinet (a 4th higher than the usual B flat one) breezes in in typically cheeky fashion, setting the tone of this rather brash movement. After an extra-raucous rendition of the main theme the piece ends with an upward rush with the flute superseding even the screaming clarinet with a super-top E flat. The second prelude was orchestrated by the conductor Otto Klemperer and played at Gershwin’s memorial concert in September 1937, just two months after the composer’s premature death from a brain tumour. There have been many arrangements of all three preludes, including for violin and piano by Jascha Heifetz, for flute and piano, also for saxophone quartet.

 

Arranger’s note (Chris Britton):

This disc features not just my own arrangements but also the work of three other performing musicians. Lisa Portus is a bassoonist who has now compiled an impressive list of fine arrangements of the most diverse repertoire. The Pavlova Quintet has often played clarinettist John Newhill’s arrangements with great enjoyment, especially his Christmas Carol suite and these lovely Elgar transcriptions. Lionel Sainsbury brings a wealth of experience of composing for orchestra to this, his first (and very successful) foray into arrangement for wind quintet of his own music.

Transcribing music from one medium to another is somewhat like translating poetry and raises the same issues. The explorer Gertrude Bell, who was active in the Middle East in the early part of the 20th century, amongst many other accomplishments translated ancient Persian poetry, and went about it in an unusual fashion. Rather than trying to translate the original faithfully she decided to recompose the poetry in English but offering the same ‘message’. Often while re-thinking piano music into the medium of the wind quintet I am confronted with the problem of how literal I should be with the transition. Choosing which pieces to work on is perhaps the most important step, and I have mostly been inspired by playing piano works that seem to lend themselves to this very different sonority. A good sense of melody and line is essential, and the more contrapuntal the texture the better. The piano is basically a percussion instrument (at least according to Stravinsky) while the wind quintet consists of five very individual sonorities geared more to sustained melody. The differences of tonal quality between the double-reed oboe and bassoon, the single-reed clarinet, the French horn ( a member of the orchestral brass section) and, very much out on a limb, the soft-toned flute, make blending very difficult. But it can be put to positive use by offering a contrast of timbre where the original piano music is a little repetitive, as in, for example, Tchaikovsky’s ‘June’, where I consciously gave the solo line to different instruments to create variety, sending in the process the bassoon up to top C in the style of the opening solo in Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring! Other issues that arise are the question of whether one should keep to the original key or not. Increasingly now I am prepared to transpose a piece in order to achieve the same effect in the new medium. What is convenient for piano may not be suitable for wind instruments, even though the modern instruments are technically entirely chromatic. In the Gurney Preludes for example, I have changed the key of the two preludes in F# major to more friendly ones for wind instruments. I also often enjoy putting something ‘extra’ into my arrangements that is not in the original, such as the replacement of the somewhat formulaic rising arpeggiated chords to a climax at the end of the central faster section of Tchaikovsky’s June with upward rushing scales/arpeggios in diverse rhythms played by the wind instruments, thus giving a more ‘chaotic’ feel, culminating in a piercing top C# on the flute!

As an arranger it is very helpful to be an active member of a wind quintet. It then becomes easy to pick up what is problematical on an instrument that one doesn’t play oneself, and indeed what sounds great on that particular instrument. For example double or triple tonguing for quick-fire articulation is fine on the flute and the horn, but on the oboe, clarinet or bassoon – forget it! I enjoy making a transcription fit the individual players of my group. Hence I used the E flat clarinet in the 3rd Gershwin prelude thinking of Barbara’s sparky proclivities on the instrument. I have often given to the oboe the main melody (even nobly giving it up in the opening of the Caplet where it was originally for flute!) thinking of Carolyn’s lovely phrasing and tone. I have often been inspired by Jenny’s mellow and rich horn sound to give her suitable solos, but I know that she is also able to blend splendidly with the other instruments so I can confidently use the horn to enrich harmonies. Simon, with his peerless tone and intonation, always seems to enjoy challenges on the bassoon, so I give him parts that occasionally use virtually the entire range of the instrument (sometimes in the same bar!), and I am aware (as he is) that so many arrangers only give the main melody to the bassoon when it is in the company of a higher instrument doubling it! As an ex-bassoonist myself I am very much with the LLBB (League for the Liberation of the Bassoon from the Bass-line!)

Regarding the nitty-gritty of arranging there is the problem of how much one should dictate and set out in detail markings such as dynamics and articulation. I believe it is important to think of the natural characteristics of each instrument in these areas. The oboe and bassoon are louder at the bottom than at the top of their range while the flute is the opposite. Slurring may be difficult over large leaps and such markings may have to be changed from the original. Tempi may need to be modified to be playable (e.g. in the Gershwin Preludes) on wind instruments. Breath points may need to be marked explicitly. It is tempting to be over-directional in markings though, especially if the arranger has strong opinions about interpretation, but I also feel it is important to give individual players of different groups some opportunity to formulate their own interpretation. Clarity in the parts is a prime consideration, so I try to avoid excessive dynamic and articulation markings that could get in the way of efficient reading.

I hope that all the arrangements on this disc will both give pleasure and, in the case of familiar works, give some new insight into the music when translated into the colourful medium of the wind quintet.

Christopher Britton  August 2017  

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