Edward Gregson’s Music

GREGSON: 3 Matisse Impressions. Serenata Notturna for Violin & Piano. Cameos for Trumpet & Piano. Oboe Sonata. Alarum for Tuba. Love Goddess for Viola & Piano. Divertimento for Trombone & Piano. Tributes for Clarinet & Piano / Soloists from the Hallé & BBC Philharmonic Orchs.: Amy Yule, fl; Yuri Torchinsky, vln; Gareth Small, tpt; Jennifer Galloway, ob; Tim Pooley, vla; Katy Jones, tb; Sergio Castelló Lopez, cl; Ewan Easton, tuba; Paul Janes, pno / Naxos 8.574224

Edward Gregson (b. 1945) is an academic as well as a composer. All of the works on this CD except for Cameos, Alarum, Tributes and the Divertimento are first recordings.

Judging from the first work on this CD, the 3 Matisse Impressions for flute & piano, he writes in a grateful style based on the French impressionists. This could easily pass as a late work by Ravel or Koechlin. I was especially impressed by the second piece, which uses a sort of stepwise harmony that matches the direction of the melodic line. The third piece, “Danse,” is highly rhythmic and in this case sounds more American than French.

The Serenata Notturna uses a lyrical, tonal melodic line for the violin over more atonal accompaniment by the piano. This, however, changes by the three-minute mark, with the violin now fully committed to angular, atonal lines that match the piano’s rugged harmonies.

Personally, I found the Cameos for trumpet & piano fairly conventional and uninteresting, but if you think that’s bad, wait until you hear the Oboe sonata from 1965. Completely unoriginal, uninspired music. Gregson evidently became better with age, which is immediately evident when this treacly oboe sonata is over and we reach the much edgier, and more interesting, Alarum for tuba. Love Goddess for viola and piano is also pretty good, with a rising chromatic line for the violist at one point that heightens the tension. But something struck me while those last two pieces were playing, and that is that Gregson really doesn’t have a personal voice or an identifiable style. His music, though solidly written, sounds generic.

The 1968 Divertimento for trombone & piano is a bit more interesting than the Cameos or Oboe Sonata, particularly in his use of chromatic smears for the soloist. Classical trombonists rarely play these sort of things well, or at least they used to play them pretty badly, but this is the 21st century and Katy Jones does an outstanding job. The second and third movements, however, are far less interesting than the first.

The Tributes for clarinet & piano are the latest music on this disc, written in 2010. They’re also interesting harmonically, but only just. I found the second movement, dedicated to Gerald Finzi, to be particularly uninteresting.

My reaction to this CD is pretty much summed up in the fourth paragraph. Gregson’s early works are tonal, uninteresting junk while several of his later works are quite interesting…but none of them are so interesting that they make me think that he’s very original. He’s an academic composer, he does his job well, and now, apparently, he has an “international reputation.” Worth hearing once for the interesting moments.

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

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