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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Howard Blake's Vivid Music for String Quartet and String Trio, Nicely Performed by the Edinburgh Quartet

Howard Blake made me take notice years ago with his dazzling score to the children's cartoon The Snowman. I have finally had the chance to hear more of his work via a couple of Naxos releases, one covered earlier on my Gapplegate Music Review Blog, the other up for discussion today. What I hear I like.

The one at hand covers some of his music for string quartet (and one for string trio) (Naxos 8.572688). The Edinburgh Quartet do the honors and they provide a nice balance between lyric expression and subtle shadings of string color. In many ways that's what Howard Blake's string chamber music is about.

His music has a modern tang to it and a kind of linear narrative quality so that you would never think you are hearing a piece by, say, Schumann or Brahms. Yet there is a very lyrical melodic strain to his compositions that put him apart from what is the norm out there today. The pieces ["Spieltrieb," "A Month in the Country," "Leda and the Swan," "String Trio, Op. 199," and "Walking in the Air"] include some early work (1975, 1977) and some recent (2008-2010). All have a pretty ravishing memorability about them.

The CD ends with the "Walking in the Air" sequence of The Snowman Suite and it is lovely to hear, especially if you are already familiar with the boy soprano, piano and orchestra version from the cartoon soundtrack. What it loses in sheer sensual beauty it gains with the paired-back clarity of the quartet.

This certainly is not the sort of cutting-edge modernism that can be had out there. It is a wonderful example of music from a composer who will give you a warm, almost folksy kind of feeling. a little like Vaughan-Williams in his more homespun mode.

If that sounds interesting to you, check this one out by all means.

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