The Music of Christopher Ball


 

 

 

 

Celtic Twilight Audio CD; Import Omnibus

 

 

 

Violin Concerto.1 5 Bagatelles.2 From the Hebrides.3 Celtic Twilight 4 • Christopher Ball, cond; Thomas Gould (vn);1, 4 Paul Arden-Taylor (ob,2, 3 Eh,3 rcr3); Leslie Craven (cl);2, 4 Celia Birkinshaw (bn);2 Emerald Concert O • OMNIBUS 5003 (74:40)

CD Review by Robert Markow

Christopher Ball is a new name to me, though he obviously has been around for quite some time (b. 1936). This multitalented Englishman has worn at least six musical hats in his 73 years. He began as a clarinetist and played often as a freelancer with Barbirolli’s Hallé Orchestra. Next came conducting, including a stint as one of the Royal Ballet’s conductors both in London and on tour. In the early 1970s, he became fascinated with the nascent early music revival and learned the recorder. The 1980s were spent largely as an arranger. Finally he turned his attention to serious composition (there had been a few light pieces along the way) with his full-length (25 minutes) Recorder Concerto in 1995. Since then he has produced six more concertos, each for a different instrument. Ball is also a publisher, a renowned photographer, and a teacher of clarinet and recorder at the Royal Academy of Music.

The 36-minute Violin Concerto opens with sinuously intertwining woodwinds evoking the English musical landscapes of Bax, Butterworth, Delius, and especially Vaughan Williams. The music is immediately appealing with its tenderly nostalgic themes and gentle tone. Ball’s command of orchestral color and the expert interaction between orchestra and soloist reveal him to be a composer of more than average talent. The slow movement is even more deeply imbued with the temper of the English countryside. The finale unequivocally evokes the world of folk dance, though at 15 minutes it rather outstays its welcome. While there may be just a few too many obviously derivative elements here (Malcolm Arnold, Vaughan Williams, Harry Potter film scores), there is no denying that Ball does have something to say and he says it very well. The music falls gratefully on the ear and will undoubtedly prove eminently pleasing to anyone seeking a contemporary concerto that speaks the language of nearly a century ago. Indeed, it may well be the most earnestly lyrical violin concerto composed since Elgar’s.

I would gladly go hear the English violinist Thomas Gould play almost anything anywhere. Ball personally chose him to introduce his new Violin Concerto in 2008, and he chose wisely. Rarely have I heard a violinist of Gould’s generation (he was born in 1983) with the range of tasteful expression, the enormous color palette, and the ability to say something with every note. His sound has a glow such as one experiences in the soft light of a summer evening.

The Five Bagatelles for oboe, clarinet, and bassoon are appropriately titled: each is a two- or three-minute gem of quirky character featuring unexpected twists and turns of harmony, melody, or rhythm. Great fun. Folk song also infuses From the Hebrides, which the composer, in his concise but informative notes, tells us was inspired by folk songs from the region, though the tunes are all his own. The gentle melodies are distributed among three instruments—oboe, English horn, and recorder—all played by a single musician who is kept busy switching instruments within each of the five movements. Celtic Twilight is presented last but has the most evocative label and thus gives the disc its title. This is another pastoral miniature in the best tradition of the English landscapists, a sort of latter-day version of Vaughan Williams’s Lark Ascending, with the addition of a prominent clarinet part.

An air of purity and spaciousness pervades the recording acoustic, lending a further measure of pleasure to this enjoyable program of four world premiere recordings. Robert Markow

This article originally appeared in Issue 33:3 (Jan/Feb 2010) of Fanfare Magazine.


 

 


CHRISTOPHER BALL

Concerto for Clarinet & Strings
Four Dances for Wind Trio
Concerto for Flute & Orchestra
Irish Suite

 

Listen to samples:
Adagio_non_troppo.mp3
Lively_Dance.mp3
Rondo.mp3
The_Star_of_the_Country_Down.mp3

View the publicity information:
A4_publicity.pdf

Leslie Craven clarinet, Adam Walker flute
Emerald Concert Orchestra conducted by the composer

Christopher Ball's music is written in a style that makes it immediately appealing to a wide range of music lovers. It is energetic and extrovert in nature, but endowed with atmospheric moments of magical quiet tenderness. The main works on this disc are the two new concertos, which are brilliantly performed by the dedicatees, Leslie Craven and Adam Walker. The Emerald Concert Orchestra produces a rich warm sound, providing the perfect accompaniment and support for the solo wind instruments.

 

 

Adam Walker first came to prominence as a finalist in the 2004 BBC Young Musician of the Year competition, performing Nielsen's flute concerto. In the same year, he gave his debut recital at the Wigmore Hall and since then, he has earned a reputation as one of the finest flautists of the younger generation.

Leslie Craven is today regarded as one of the leading exponents of the English school of clarinet playing and is currently Principal Clarinet with Welsh National Opera. He has performed extensively as a soloist throughout the world and teaches at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama.

Quantum's mid-price range: £9.99 QM 7040
Distributed by Discovery Records Ltd.

Review of the CD from Clarinet and Saxophone Magazine, Spring 2007

Christopher Ball studied at the Royal Academy of Music with Jack Brymer, Reginald Kell and Cervase de Peyer, and he began his professional career as a clarinettist in the Halle, performing regularly with Barbirolli. He taught with great distinction for many years at the RAM Junior Department, during which time his career as a performer took new paths with conducting engagements throughout Britain and in Canada, and from the 1970s with early music. He founded and directed the Praetorius Consort, and the London Baroque Trio in which he played recorder. As a composer he has specialised in music for winds, often writing for particular performers, and his orchestral music includes concertos for recorder and oboe, and arrangements and picturesque original works, many of them for BBC radio.

In the biographical note for this CD, he writes of his significant first encounter with the clarinet as a boy, hearing on the radio programme Children's Hour the haunting solo that opens George Butterworth's On The Banks 01 Green Willow. In relating this he gives a strong indication of his musical language: folk¬song inspired lyricism imbued with a sense of nostalgia. Unashamedly melodic and tonal, he relishes beauty of sound and directness of expression above all. Personal, heartfelt, and decidedly not 'modern', his music harks back several generations to composers with a similar sense of heritage, such as Vaughan Williams 'Fantasia on Creensleeves, Oboe Concerto, The Lark Ascending), Warlock, Finzi, and that formative influence, Butterworth.

He has an insider's understanding of the technical and musical characteristics of wind instruments, and writes for them in a way that reveals only their finest qualities. This new Clarinet Concerto is a gift for a soloist of imagination and skill, the writing always idiomatic and sympathetic, voiced to project easily over the string orchestra. The composer writes 'I hope to present the clarinet in a light which will make future young listeners fall for the charm of the instrument'. Cantabile lines abound, but are never overstretched; flowing scale and arpeggio passages are tailor-made. The range of registers and dynamics is explored without ever crossing the discomfort threshold. In Leslie Craven, the dedicatee, he has the ideal interpreter, commanding and brilliant but above all, warmly expressive, a beautifully full and singing sound throughout the compass, with a distinctive 'English School' vibrato.

In each of the three traditionally cast movements, Christopher Ball exploits modal and pentatonic scales to give that unmistakable old-English character. Moments of poignant reflection alternate with tempestuous writing in the first movement, rather as in Finzi's Clarinet Concerto. The longest movement is the second, free flowing and pastoral, a clarinettist's Lark Ascending, ending diminuendo al niente. The energetic 2/4 finale sets off purposefully but contains touches of impish humour - using a favourite device of interjecting bars of wrong-footing compound time rhythms, and there is an elegant 3/4 dance interlude towards the end. Anything other than a virtuosic conclusion would be a disappointment; the composer obliges with exciting volleys of semiquavers in the presto coda.
The Four Dances for wind trio were composed at the suggestion of a former student, and were intended as a companion piece to Malcolm Arnold's Divertimento Op.37. Scored for the same combination of flute, oboe and clarinet they are similarly witty and concise, excellently played here by Adam Walker, Paul Arden-Taylor and Leslie Craven.

Adam Walker is the soloist in the Flute Concerto (which is dedicated to him), and what an exceptionally communicative player he is, with a vibrant clarity of tone and articulation. At the age of 16 he was a concerto finalist in the BBC Young Musician of the Year 2004, with recitals at the Wigmore Hall and St. George's Bristol, and numerous radio broadcasts following on. He is currently studying at the RAM with Michael Cox. Like a gallant knight, he brings boldness and nobility to the first movement of this new concerto, a movement full of a sense of adventure. In the expansive and dream-like 'Idyll' he spins a hypnotising thread, answered here and there by soloists from the orchestra, clarinet, oboe, cor anglais and harp. In the Rondo finale there is more fun with alternating time signatures, and a contrasting mood is created with a poignant slower central episode. Throughout this evocative piece, as with the Clarinet Concerto, the composer writes for the soloist in a way that any accomplished player would relish.
Concluding the disc is some musical confectionery, the Irish Suite lor small orchestra, Christopher Ball's arrangements of Irish folk tunes. These are The Lark in the Clear Air, The Star of County Down, Londonderry Air, and Trottin' to the Fair. The first three were originally written as incidental music for the BBC, the fourth is new for this CD. Distinctly soft-centred, there is a child-like innocence to these arrangements - the chirruping of a tin whistle opens the first of them, images perhaps of the composer's fondly remembered Children's Hour.

The recordings were made in July 2006, following premiere performances of the two concertos. The venue, All Saints Church in Weston-Super-Mare, gives a resonant glow to the sound, well caught by producer Paul Arden-Taylor in a very naturally balanced recording. The Bristol based Emerald Orchestra play with warmth and commitment under the baton of the composer, and the CD will bring pleasure to those who enjoy music that is uncomplicatedly melodic and expressive. Andrew Smith

FROM GOOD RECORD STORES
OR AVAILABLE ONLINE: www.euravent.co.uk     [click on euravent catalogue]

 

THE PRAETORIUS CONSORT
Director: Christopher Ball
Omnibus

 

Listen to samples:
Demantius.MP3
Introduction_Courante.mp3
Spagnoletta_Bouree.mp3

Praetorius: Dances from Terpsichore
Arbeau: Orchesographie / Tunes from the dancing school of Gregorio Lambranzi
Holborne: Short Airs / Demantius: German and Polish Dances

Renaissance Recorders, Crumhorns, Cornamuse, Kortholts, Doucaine, Rauschpfeife, Garklein-Flötlein, Great Bass Rackett, Lutes, Viols, Minstrel's Harp, Harpsichord, Spinet, Octavina, Regal, Bells & Percussion

  • “Brilliantly recorded” (Classical CD Reviews – Music WEB, UK)
  • “A delightful record…The best bargain to come my way in many a month” (HI-FI News)
  • “Recording of demonstration quality” (Penguin Guide)
  • “Surpasses its full-price rivals” (Guardian)
  • “Played with energy, stylish embellishments & considerable panache” (Gramophone)
  • “Highly recommended, with lively and colourful performances” (Classical CD Reviews – Music Web UK)

Total Time 77-09
Price: £4.99

 

THE PIPER OF DREAMS
5 World Premiere Recordings on Dinmore CDs: DRD 104

 

Listen to samples:
Allegretto.mp3
Allegro_Vivace.mp3
Aubade.mp3
Comedy_Overture.mp3
Pagan_Piper.mp3

  • “An invigorating collection that is worthy of the highest Praise”
  • “Not only is his music tonal, well-crafted and melodic, it is unmistakably English and has an individual voice. The Concerto for Recorder is a delight, full of jaunty, confident ideas and whimsical turns of phrase. His Oboe Concerto is just as appealing. The disc is completed by 2 recorder solos: Pagan Piper and Pan Overheard and the witty and incisive Scenes from a Comedy for Wind Quintet”. (Jeremy Nicholas in Classic FM Magazine) Runner-up Record of the Month
  • “Perfect music for a relaxing summer day” (BBC Radio 3)
  • “Some of the most delightful music in modern woodwind repertoire” (Recorder Magazine)
  • “I have enjoyed the whole 67 minutes if this CD greatly” (David Mellor, Classic FM)
  • “Exquisite Music”…”much melodic and rhythmic variety”…”bathe in the beautiful music”…”hauntingly mellifluous and melodic”…Paul Arden-Taylor’s “sparkling playing and dazzling virtuosity”…”full of the sheer enjoyment of the music”…”Christopher Ball is a composer and musician of rare brilliance”…as a conductor he draws playing of great warmth and sensitivity from the Adderbury Ensemble”… Superb recording”. (Quotes from: American Record Guide TIBIA (Germany) and Recorder Magazine.

Order online: www.dinmore-records.co.uk
or through good record shops

Price: £10.00 incl p&p


London Baroque Trio
Recorder Sonatas by Teleman Händel Dieupart Loeillet, Parcham Williams
Total Time: 76-27

 

Listen to samples:
Telemann-Trio_Sonata_in_F.mp3


Music for Shakespeare
The Praetorius Consort
Director: Christpher Ball
Price: £7.50

 

Listen to samples:
Cinquepace.mp3
Gigue.MP3
It_was_a_Lover_and_his_Lass.mp3


Portraits in Music by Renaissance and Baroque composers
Directed by: Christopher Ball
Price: £7.50

 

Listen to samples:
Corinna.mp3
Dido.mp3
Regina.mp3
Sophia_and_Anna.mp3


Joyful Noyse
Popular Tunes through the ages (From the 13th to the 20th contury)
Total Time: 70 Minutes
Price: £7.50

 

Listen to samples:
Four_Elizabethan_Pop_Tunes.mp3
Thingummy-Jig.mp3


An English Serenade
Elgar – Vaughan Williams – Walton – Christopher Ball – John Marsh
This CD includes „A Summer Day“ and „Celtic Moods“ by Christopher Ball

Listen to samples:
Celtic_Moods.mp3
Summer_Day.mp3


Work in Progress:
“From the Hebrides”
To be recorded in the near future.


Compositions

The Recorder Music of Christopher Ball
Part 1
by John Turner

Concerto ("The Piper of Dreams") for recorder (descant, treble and sopranino) and string orchestra

Allegro Vivace; Andante Pastorale; Allegretto Duration: approx. 28/30'

This is one of the longest (if not the longest) of all concertos for the recorder, but it is certainly one of the most delightful and rewarding to play as well as being beguiling to listen to. A very gifted recorder student of the composer at the Royal Academy of Music, Susan Wallace, had won an award in competition with players of all instruments and needed a concerto to play with a professional orchestra as her prize. The conductor wanted a concerto of about 25 minutes duration and on looking into this they discovered that none had been composed! All the baroque concertos lasted only 10-12 minutes and even the Arnold Recorder Concerto lasted a mere 12 minutes. So the only solution seemed to be for Chris to write the concerto himself, which he chose to do in a style to appeal to as wide an audience of classical music lovers as possible.

The piece is eminently playable, and is well within the capabilities of the good amateur player with flying fingers and a sure sense of rhythm. The recorder writing sounds brilliant in execution, but everything lies beautifully "under the fingers", and gives the illusion of great virtuosity. In fact there are never any impossible (or even acutely difficult) demands on the player's technique. The range is modest, without any ultra-high notes to daunt the player (in fact the treble recorder never uses top F and the descant only uses top C as a passing note twice - so problems of speaking on high notes are minimised). Add many memorable, even catchy, tunes, and you have a sure-fire winner! The title of the piece comes from the eponymous painting showing a woodland scene with a young piper playing underneath a tree, this picture being the inspiration for the final rondo.

The first movement was in fact composed last. It is in an extended sonata form. The strings fan downwards from the note A on an added seventh chord (the opening curtain as it were) to introduce the first group of themes. There is a jaunty hornpipe-like tune on the descant recorder in irregular groupings of 2 and 3 quavers (Ex. 1), and a English-style jig with

bright primary harmonies and the tumtytum rhythm well known from the finales of countless baroque recorder sonatas (Ex. 2), which are joined together by subsidiary songlike passages on the strings. The second subject is a heart-on-sleeve (almost Elgarian) tune in E Minor in 4/4, but with pentatonic violins, and another variant appears on the recorder after a mysterious and delicate passage for the full divided string orchestra. At its successive appearances throughout the movement the lament tune acquires ever more encrustations of ornaments from the soloist. The gentle  soporific  atmosphere  is  broken by a

overtones, presented on the first violins (as many of them as possible for lushness!), with a descant on the recorder (Ex. 3). When the recorder eventually takes over this tune, it does so with increasing pentatonic ornamentation, and many crushed grace notes - the music moves from Malvern to the Irish Sea! In a lengthy development these themes are ingeniously combined, before a brief recapitulation, and a final brilliant coda in which the recorder whooshes up and down pentatonic arpeggios.
The second movement is the emotional heart of the work, and by far the longest movement. Over a misty string chord (that added seventh chord again!) in D Minor the treble recorder launches into an (almost) pentatonic eight bar tune of great beauty - rather like a Celtic lament (Ex. 4). This tune is immediately repeated by the recorder a tone lower, with subtle variations and sensuous chromatic inflections (including blue notes), against a countermelody on the first chirpy scherzo like passage on the descant recorder, which eventually leads into a lengthy written-out cadenza (with baroque figuration and double tonguing) before the return of the lament.


The final rondo (starting back on descant recorder) is based on an eminently hummable eight-bar tune of the English country dance variety in 6/8 rhythm, made particularly memorable by its bright English harmony of consecutive triads (Ex. 5). Contrary to expectations, the movement is not fast (though there is plenty of opportunity for display later on), but needs to be played with poise and grace. The contrasting theme is a simple tune for strings, based a descending and ascending scale (Ex. 6), which is then taken up and ornamented by the recorder. Successive interludes take the music into ever more teasing rhythmical patterns, before the soloist changes back to treble recorder for a tranquil interlude in 3/4, recalling in mood the lament from the second movement. After this brief respite the soloist takes the sopranino recorder for repetitions of the country dance tune and the scalic theme, before the accelerator is depressed for a spectacularly virtuoso coda with constantly varying time signatures, and ending with a triumphant fanfare in G major.


The Recorder Music of Christopher Ball
Part 2
by John Turner

Pagan Piper, for solo tenor (or treble) recorder (or flute)
Duration approx. 3'45"

For years, recorder players envied flautists their repertoire of impressionist solo pieces, including Debussy's Syrinx, and Honegger's Danse de la Chevre. Modern composers who wrote solo works for recorder tended to capitalise on the recorder's rhythmic precision and its capacity for special effects, rather than the sheer beauty of its sound and its tonal flexibility, despite its unrivalled capacity for imitating birdsong. Most recorder players, used to early music, naturally cultivated a tone without vibrato, and disdained the use of a diaphragm-based vibrato, which is part of the regular stock-in-trade of the orchestral and chamber wind player. This dream-like piece needs those techniques in abundance. It should sound like an extemporisation - free, expressive and flexible. The melodic material of itself is not particularly memorable, but what is memorable is the mood it creates, which is aptly expressed in the lines of Elizabeth Barrett Browning which inspired the piece:
What was he doing, the great god Pan, Down in the reeds by the river? Spreading ruin and scattering ban, Splashing and paddling with the hoofs of a goat, And breaking the golden lilies afloat With the dragon-fly on the river.


The sensual minor seconds recur throughout the piece in varying contexts, and even appear to turn into birdsong at one point. But the essence of improvisation is that the different ideas develop naturally from each other, and apart from the repeat of the opening phrase at the end, to close the circle, the themes never exactly recur. The performer needs to "stand outside" and listen to himself and the tone he creates as he plays in communion with nature, colouring the notes in his own personal way as the piece progresses. Although tempo changes are clearly notated by the composer, the performer is always given free rein to make the music blossom.
The piece was originally conceived for solo tenor recorder (an instrument with a comparatively small repertoire), but may also be played on the treble with the same fingerings. It is dedicated to the recorder player Ben Norbury.

Pan Overheard, for solo treble recorder (or flute)
Duration approx. 4'05"

This is a companion piece to the well-known Pagan Piper, and could be paired with it in concert performance. Scored for solo treble recorder, the music is more agile and animated, though still improvisatory in character. It is as if Pan, being unaware of the listener, revels in his virtuosity, and the piece abounds in lengthy accelerating and decelerating arpeggio figures, often, as frequently the case in Christopher Ball's music, pentatonic in nature. The sensual nature of the music is emphasised by written glissandi (always idiomatic to the recorder) as well as the familiar semitone melodic movement (the chromatic descents at the end are perhaps a subconscious homage to Debussy's Syrinx?). The piece is marked tempo rubato, but the composer is meticulous in giving frequent directions for speeding up and slowing down the pace of the music (notated throughout by forward and backward arrows) as it proceeds, and including wavy lines indicating speed and duration of vibrato.  In  addition  there  are  copious  trills (there were none in Pagan Piper) to propel the music forward. At the end of the piece the player is directed to be silent for the notated rest (and presumably hold playing pose), thus preserving the atmosphere and allowing the sound to decay naturally. As with the Recorder Concerto, the composer's intimate knowledge of the instrument has enable him to write a work which sounds brilliant in performance, but does not unduly stretch technique. Control of pacing and tone are the sine qua nons for a fine performance of the piece.

A Summer Day, for treble recorder and piano
Duration approx. 4'45"

This piece is worthy to rank with Ernest Tomlinson's Little Serenade, Trevor Duncan's Little Suite and Ronald Binge's Elizabethan Serenade as one of the classics of the British light music repertoire. The piece was originally commissioned by the BBC as an orchestral piece for the BBC Midland Radio Orchestra, scored for small orchestra, and in that form received more than one hundred broadcasts. This version for recorder and piano was made by the composer himself,

and is dedicated to Paul Arden-Taylor, who has performed so much of his recorder music. As usual with Chris, the harmonic language breaks no barriers, and is simplicity itself (Sir William Glock would most certainly not have approved!). There is nothing that would have been unfamiliar to, say Grieg, but the main tune, in F Major, with its bright underlying harmony, and a delectable wiggle at the end of each strain, has that indefinable quality that means you never forget it when you have once made its acquaintance! It evokes the Cotswolds on a glorious still day. (Ex. 8)

The piece is in a simple ternary form and the middle section, in D Minor, is based on a tune (composed originally by Chris whilst still at school) of which Parry would not have been ashamed! (Ex. 9) The piece is equally suited to performance on flute, oboe, or (duly transposed) clarinet, but the clear and innocent tones of the recorder are particularly appropriate for this pastoral music.


Music for a Festival, for descant recorder and piano
Preamble; Idyll; Bagatelle; Song without Words; Calypso
Duration approx. 10'15"

The repertoire of easy original concert pieces for descant recorder and piano remains very small, and this suite is a welcome addition. It has the added bonus of an easy piano part, without big stretches, for young fingers to get round. If the whole work is performed as a suite, then the composer suggests that the two slow movements ("Idyll" and "Song without Words") could be played on the tenor recorder, for more contrast in mood and tone colour.
The opening Preamble is a sprightly and strongly rhythmical curtain-raiser in the bright (and easy!) key of C Major, in 7/4 tempo (always 3 + 2 + 2) (Ex. 10). The contrasting middle section starts in A Minor with a folksong-like tune in 6/4.

The gentle second movement, "Idyll", has a harp-like accompaniment suggestive of lapping waves, over which the recorder weaves a simple and expressive lament. Those who know and love Peter Warlock's Capriol Suite will quickly warm to the next movement, "Bagatelle", as its tune bears a distinct family resemblance to the dance tune from Arbeau's Orchesographie used in the final movement of the Suite (Mattachins) (and indeed to the Susato dances, beloved of recorder players), but the performer is kept on his toes by the insertion of irregular bars after the cadences, which are filled in with decorations from the recorder on the repeats.

The fourth movement is a "Song without Words", and here the harmonic colouring throughout is subtle and beautiful (with a beguiling key side slip from G into B flat). (Ex. 11) The mood is romantic and sleepy and the piece demands flexibility and great beauty of tone from the soloist, who needs to be a master of a finely judged rubato. It is very much in the tradition of British light music (Eric Coates and his ilk) and is by several leagues a much more sophisticated piece than the others in the cycle (it is very much my own personal favourite!). The accompaniment really calls for a lush string orchestra, and the solo line would also sound wonderful on solo oboe (dare I say it?). Finally, there is a swinging Calypso, with cha-cha-cha chords. This just cries out for swishing maracas, broad grins and loud frilly shirts, and is guaranteed to get your feet tapping. The piece needs sharp rhythmic co-ordination, and good control of short glissandi from the recorder soloist.
Five Contrasts for recorder trio (descant, treble, tenor)
Mock Baroque; Carol; Miniature March; Spanish Nocturne, Organ Grinder's Tune
Duration approx. 8'30"
This witty and unpretentious suite for three recorders was composed for the Trio Tagarela. The first movement, "Mock-Baroque", is a jaunty hornpipe in simple ternary form, starting off fugally The opening tune, with its hints of 3+3+2 rhythm (Ex. 12) is tossed between the

instruments, and comes in a different key almost every bar in the middle section. The piece concludes (as did the first section) with a simple downward C Major scale.
If the first movement is mock-baroque, perhaps the "Carol" is mock-renaissance, based as it is on a gentle eight-bar hymn tune, with much contrapuntal decoration to give interest in all the parts, and ending serenely on an A major triad. The "Miniature March" (for a family of Lilliputians) shifts to the key of G, opening with a fanfare which it proceeds to toss around the ensemble with abandon, a la Rossini. Contrast is provided by a "Spanish Nocturne", which relies on sinuous lines, rather than flamenco tune, to project a sultry and lazy atmosphere. But surely the piece de resistance of the suite is the final "Organ Grinder's Tune", an inspired idea, appealing to the composer's sense of colour, and recalling his consummate skill in orchestrations for the BBC Midland Radio Orchestra. Here you can even feel the steam shooting from the top of the fairground organ as the piece galumphs and wheezes along in its ever-changing metre (Ex. 13).

This  suite,  though  using  the  simplest  of musical  materials  -  textbook harmonies  and

four-bar phrases - nevertheless enchants by being so mellifluous and melodically attractive. Needless to say the writing for the instruments is perfection!

Divertimento for recorder quartet
(descant, treble, tenor, bass)
Off-Beat Overture; Pastoral Air and Dance;
A Flourish  of Panpipes;   UnwillingWaltz; Burlesque
Duration approx. 10'30"

The highlight of this Suite for me is the fourth movement, where again the composer's imagination seems to be ignited by the colour of the barrel-organ. The incipient waltz-tune is constantly tripped up by 2 / 4 bar interrupations in the style of Malcolm Arnold. When in the middle of the movement the oompahpah turns into a regular 3/ 4, colour is added by deliberate fun-fair style wrong notes in the harmony. Both Verdi and Johann Strauss would have been delighted, not least by the final sparkling quotation from The Blue Danube.
The pan-pipe movement before this also owes much to Christopher Ball's flair for colour, being based on Papageno's panpipe flourish in Mozart's Magic Flute.
The "Off-Beat Overture" is based on the tune of "Oh No John", but always with a rhythmic displacement of the penultimate note of the tune. If you didn't know the tune when you started, you certainly will by the time the movement ends! The Pastoral Air and Dance have a Celtic flavour, with pentatonic figuration in the music's graceful and flowing melodic
lines. Providing a nice contrast in textures, the

Air is a solo for the treble recorder accompanied by the two lower instruments (Ex.14), with descant taking over the melody line in the Dance. The final Burlesque is a scampering moto perpetuo in rondo form, with a throw-away ending, following a flutter-tongued "raspberry" chord for the full ensemble.

Music for a Banquet, for recorder quintet (sopranino/treble/descant,   treble,   tenor, bass)
The Jester;  Minstrel's  Song;   Roundelay;
Revellers'Jig
Duration approx. 11'

This is merrie musicke for olde England - you can envisage flagons of foaming ale, haunches of roast beef (very rare) and pretty wenches with broad country accents - all politically very incorrect! But what fun this pastiche is, with such stunning tunes, and it makes one wonder why Chris was never asked to write incidental music for Shakespeare plays - it would have been just up his street. The opening movement, "The Jester", is in the recorder's home key of F Major - brisk and

boisterous, with a syncopated Susato-type main theme, made up of simple sequences, that is repeated over and over again (eight times in all - and you can't stop whistling it!). (Ex. 15) The other tunes in this movement are constructed equally simply from sequences and repetitions, perhaps the most appealing of these being a cantabile tune over gently woven counterpoint. (Ex. 16) The second movement, "Minstrel's Song", is a sad but serene tune, always in the top Ex.16 introduction with an intriguing missed "sniffed" beat to introduce a stately tune accompanied by thirds (this always works well on recorders). The textures blossom as the movement proceeds, with ornamental cascades of scales and the "sniffs" filled in. The final "Revellers'Jig" is riotous, and its hectic tumtytum rhythms need playing with panache and abandon. The main tune of the movement surprises with an unexpected  tipsy  and  leering A flat,  and  a

part, with a warm chordal accompaniment. (Ex. 17) The third movement, "Roundelay", is a particularly happy invention, breaking out of the regular phrase structures of the previous movement. The piece starts with a three-bar cadential hemiola. As the movement progresses there are virtuoso cackles from the merry sopranino recorder, and an energetic passage on the bass recorder, throwing the tune of "Greensleeves" into the melée.

It is not surprising to learn that this suite, surely one of Chris's most entertaining and lovable compositions for recorder, started life as an orchestral work. Somehow he magically manages to preserve the colour palette when condensing a whole orchestra down to just a quintet of recorders.

Suite: Light and Shade for recorder quartet (descant, treble, tenor, bass) Madrigal; Saraband; Nowell; Siciliano; Jig
Duration approx. 10 '30"

This suite is my personal favourite amongst Chris's ensemble works. It opens with a lively Madrigal in mock-renaissance style, which enchants by perpetually reinventing the rhythm of its catchy D minor tune, and decorating the cadences with virtuoso roulades. This needs neat and nifty playing to make its point. The stately and grave Saraband remains in the key of D minor, but the mood could not be more different. The piece starts rather like the famous Folia (with the accent on the second beat), and you almost expect to hear a set of divisions on the well-known ground bass. In fact the bass line constantly develops and supports a series of cantabile melodies, at first on the treble recorder and then on the descant. For the twinkling and sprightly Nowell, the composer recommends performance on two sopraninos (or garklein and sopranino), descant and treble recorders, and this stratospheric consort of recorders races through a French baroque style noel, sprinkling star dust as it goes - rather like 'Angels from the Realms of Glory" at triple speed! The haunting 16-bar tune of the Siciliano seems to revel in perverse modulations, and simply repeats itself with many divisions. The final frolicsome Jig uses an Irish-style modal tune to great effect, with bagpipe and hurdy-gurdy drones in unisons and fifths lending earthiness to the proceedings. As the movement progresses to a hectic conclusion the top two recorders (the treble now optionally swapping to sopranino) liberally sprinkle cascades of scales and a stutter develops in the rhythm (perhaps everyone is getting slightly tipsy?).

Miniature Suite: The Fairground Organ, for recorder quartet (2  descants, treble, tenor OR 2 descants and 2 tenors). Merry-Go-Round Waltz; Pipe-Organ Polka; Lilting Lullaby, Out-of-Step March
Duration: approx. 8'

This miniature suite evokes rather genteel Victorian fairgrounds, with pretty wooden horses, steam merry-go-rounds, coconut shies, hoop-la, and candy floss! The opening Waltz clanks and poops along happily with its seductively simple G Major tune, and this is followed by a sunny Pipe-Organ Polka, in the same key, which charms with its little chromatic touches and cheeky grace notes. The Lullaby has a restful slow waltz tune in F Major. The final march seems just right for toy soldiers, though a touch of anarchy is introduced into the proceedings (all fall down!) by occasional bars of 5/8.

Other recorder music by Christopher Ball, published by Peacock Press:

Original Works:
Nine Sonatinas in the Classical Style:
No. 1 in F, for two treble recorders or other wind instruments. (NB the other eight Sonatinas in this set have yet to be published)
Ten New English Country Dances, for two
treble recorders (or other wind instruments) (Published in 2 volumes)
Ten Easy Recorder Duets, for two recorders (descant and treble OR descant and tenor)
Suite in the Baroque Style, for two recorders (descant and treble)
Twelve Studies, for treble recorder solo

Arrangements:
Country Fairs, for recorder quartet (two descant, treble, and tenor). These are fresh-minted settings of five traditional tunes -Trottin' to the Fair; Scarborough Fair; Strawberry Fair, Brigg Fair; Come to the Fair.
Gaspar Sanz: Spanish Airs and Dances
(1674), transcribed for recorder quartet (SATB) (NB The tunes will be very familiar from their use in Rodngo's Fantasia para un Gentilhombre, for guitar and orchestra)
Tunes from the Dancing School of Gregorio Lambranzi (1716), arranged for recorder quartet (SATB)
Cimarosa: Sonatas Nos. 1-4, transcribed for two recorders (SA), These four Sonatas, originally for harpsichord, are well known from their use in the Cimarosa/Benjamin Oboe Concerto
Cimarosa: Sonatas Nos. 5-9, transcribed for two recorders (SA)
Cimarosa: Sonatas Nos. 10-13, transcribed for two recorders (SA)
Haydn: Duo Sonata No. 1 transcribed for two recorders (SA)
Haydn: Duo Sonata No. 2 transcribed for two recorders (SA)
Humperdinck: Hansel and Gretel's Dance
transcribed for recorder quartet (SATB)
A Purcell Suite, arranged for recorder quartet
Schein: Banchetto Musicale (1617):
Suite No. 3 in A Minor, arranged for recorder quintet (2 descants, treble, tenor and bass)

 

Cello Concerto 2