Royal Northern College of Music Wind Orchestra, Mark Heron conductor and Carolina Krogius Mezzo Soprano | Image In Stone - The Wind Music of Stephen McNeff

Go To Artist Page

More Artists From
UK - England - North West

Other Genres You Will Love
Classical: Band Music Classical: New Music Ensemble Moods: Instrumental
Sell your music everywhere
There are no items in your wishlist.

Image In Stone - The Wind Music of Stephen McNeff

by Royal Northern College of Music Wind Orchestra, Mark Heron conductor and Carolina Krogius Mezzo Soprano

Premiere recording of the wind music of British composer Stephen McNeff, performed by the renowned Royal Northern College of Music Wind Orchestra. Conductor Mark Heron, Carolina Krogius mezzo soprano and Linda Merrick clarinet.
Genre: Classical: Band Music
Release Date: 

We'll ship when it's back in stock

Order now and we'll ship when it's back in stock, or enter your email below to be notified when it's back in stock.
Continue Shopping
available for download only
Share to Google +1

To listen to tracks you will need to update your browser to a recent version.

  Song Share Time Download
clip
1. Image in Stone: 1st movement
2:29 $0.99
clip
2. Image in Stone: 2nd movement
5:10 $0.99
clip
3. Image in Stone: 3rd movement
3:34 $0.99
clip
4. Image in Stone: 4th movement
5:11 $0.99
clip
5. Clarinet Concerto: 1st movement
7:01 $0.99
clip
6. Clarinet Concerto: 2nd movement
9:15 $0.99
clip
7. Clarinet Concerto: 3rd movement
9:13 $0.99
clip
8. Wasteland Wind Music: 1st movement
4:32 $0.99
clip
9. Wasteland Wind Music: 2nd movement
7:45 $0.99
clip
10. Wasteland Wind Music: 3rd movement
6:41 $0.99
clip
11. Wasteland Wind Music: 4th movement
6:47 $0.99
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.

ABOUT THIS ALBUM


Album Notes
Born (1951) in Belfast, McNeff grew up in Swansea, home of Dylan Thomas, Daniel Jones, Ceri
Richards, Fred Janes, Vernon Watkins, cultural hotbed and centre of the whole dynamic midcentury
Welsh arts scene. Creativity was in the air for those receptive to it. It was here that he
became involved in local music-making that stands him in good stead today. Studies were at the
Royal Academy of Music with Simon Harris, Leighton Lucas, Noel Cox and others (he shared a
conducting class with Simon Rattle) and postgraduate research at the Drama Department at
Exeter University, becoming caught up in student plays and films (also student politics, though not
as a composer!) that fuelled his passion and career ambitions. After a job with a stage company in
Bristol he forced his way into the profession the hard way with work-shopping and hands-on
involvement at every level to establish himself in the theatre and opera world, companies such as
Contact Theatre at the University of Manchester, the Banff Centre (composer in residence), Comus
Music Theatre, and Canadian Opera. Success duly and deservedly came at the Edinburgh Festival
(Aesop), the Lyric Hammersmith (Slump), The Unicorn Theatre (Clockwork - also toured nationally),
The Royal Opera House (Gentle Giant) and Opera North (What I Heard About Iraq). In 2007 he
won the British Academy Composer Award for Stage Works with Tarka the Otter, having allegedly
been pipped by a single vote a year previous. That said, he is at home in most genres, having ‘done
time’ in music education in London and the South West, enjoyed collaborations with brass
ensembles (Canadian, New York Phil and Boston Symphony brass), percussion groups, and
shown affinity for chamber music in recital works for violin, a Cello Sonata and Piano Quintet.
Firstly as ‘Composer in the House’ (funded by the Royal Philharmonic Society) and currently (2008)
Composer in Residence with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, he is active in chamber,
educational and community projects as well as the showpiece orchestral series.
This is the first CD devoted to McNeff’s works though major scores have featured on issues before.
Remarkably they are all wind music, something he fell into almost by accident. It says something
for the insidious nature of the medium that having taken the plunge he keeps returning to it. He is
not the only one. Composers who previously knew better suddenly find themselves hooked. Think
of Richard Rodney Bennett, Adam Gorb, Edwin Roxburgh, Nigel Clarke, Kenneth Hesketh and
Fergal Carroll, but McNeff has it worst: like Bennett (Morning Music) he was 50 when he came to
it, but pure chamber music apart there are now 9 works at every level of difficulty, sophistication
and negotiability of forces. Others are on the way and perhaps to his surprise he finds himself at
the forefront of British wind writers.

A programme like this that scarcely raises an eyebrow today reminds a greybeard like me who
grew up in the thick of the British windband revival how the perception of the medium has changed
from a functional tool assisting educational, social or military activities to one for which few
composers would disdain to write, its landscape from a flat (if pleasant) plain with isolated peaks
to something much more undulating. Okay, as in all art there is still a scarcity of real peaks but
the view is much more interesting; more rewarding. It also helps define, or perhaps illustrate, the
place of the composer in art and society.
25 years ago it was different. A recurring topic at early BASBWE and WASBE panels was the
repertoire discussion clinic where key works were identified for the edification of composers and
bandmasters. The first half dozen or so were no problem, but usually before we reached double
figures the fights broke out. Another was ‘Should a wind band have a standard lineup and generic
title?’ Administrators and publishers said yes, service bands had one already and weren’t going
to accommodate anyone, while composers were divided; those outside the tradition saying ‘no
way’, the specialists ‘fine by me’. The hours we wasted! What created most acrimony though
(often still does) hung on the crucial but unidentified question ‘What is a wind band for? What
does it do? Do musicians develop a technique to play music, or do composers write pieces to give
players something to do on Thursday evenings?’ The thought that there are several wind
traditions, types of band and thus varieties of purpose, style and repertoire each valid on its own
terms, took time to sink in; hasn’t yet in some quarters. There’s common ground but a
fundamental distinction: not of style or technical challenge (though this is often how it shows itself)
but of purpose. I have friends in each camp who will not talk to one another because each
considers the other a sworn foe of the true soul of wind music. The broad public had no view on
wind music as separate from other music; nor should we and increasingly we don’t, thanks to a
few activists with sense to realise that perpetuating the status quo leads to atrophy, and
commissioning composers who inhabit a larger musical world (in McNeff’s case theatre) with
courage to stand by the integrity of their vision. Behind - and fronting - the crusade was (is) the
towering presence of Timothy Reynish; along with Clark Rundell (Director of Contemporary Music
at the RNCM) it was he it was who dragged McNeff into wind music, two of these works were
commissioned from his own pocket and the ensemble playing owes its profile, its existence
almost, to his passion, vision and energy.
McNeff’s importance in this continuing revival is that he can square the circle, can embrace the
definition of art as the organisation and structuring of material within a defined space or time,
acknowledge Wagner’s wonderful pronouncement that ‘the purpose of art is to define dreams’ and also compose what ordinary mortals can put into programmes and play with conviction, is
acceptable to non-specialists and is at the same time good music and good writing. We find him
here in respectively practical, poetic and bravura mode.
The commission for what became McNeff’s Clarinet Concerto was hatched at the RNCM bar
during the 2004 BASBWE conference in the euphoria of the premiere of his The Winged Lion and
initiated by the group which had just played it: Southwark Concert Band. McNeff loves working
with such players who are proud of their commissions and lavish time on them. In return he’s
happy to modify a score on site to suit individual shortcomings or depleted sections. As an old
hand workshopping ad hoc groups with one or more solo roles he is at home combining individual
virtuosity with a less predictable ensemble. He was anyway increasingly intrigued by the
possibilities of soloist with band and we’d often discussed it, particularly two projects; a song cycle
and a more conventional concerto: clarinet or sax. We soon decided a vocal work would be better
with small ensemble (exactly as it turned out), but initially pursued both simultaneously. The carrot
of Linda Merrick’s active involvement was the bonus that tipped the scales. We also considered
a commissioning syndicate but again the sheer enthusiasm of Southwark, and North Cheshire
Concert Band in the person of director Mark Heron, proved decisive; funds were topped up by Arts
Council England and the PRS Foundation. The vexed problem of the premiere was solved by
Southwark under Robert Bridges giving the first public performance (Dulwich College, 15 May
2005) and North Cheshire under Mark Heron playing it that September in Warrington, Mark having
previewed it in March with a group at a conference in Pori, Finland. Merrick was the soloist in all
three.
As befits the brief it demands a virtuoso soloist but orchestrally suits a wide range of bands.
McNeff describes it as for wind orchestra, ie with the option of multiple players on some parts (so
not ensemble, though it works well like that). It might more properly be called for Concert (or
basic) Band, as flute/piccolo doublings are ad lib, there are only 2 horns lines (doubled ad lib if
forces permit), percussion calls for nothing unusual, unwieldy or expensive, there’s no cor anglais
or contra but there are optional extras to cover traditional danger areas. He’s also keenly aware
of which role he’s playing and takes a straightforward approach to his material to communicate as
directly as possible and uses the traditional form of 3 contrasted movements which “allows me to
say exactly what I want, and has a satisfying balance and symmetry”. He doesn’t write analytical
programme notes but hopes the piece captures the essence of the relationship between soloist
and ensemble, maybe in unusual ways. Sometimes it engages with, sometimes confronts, leaves
and rejoins the main group, goes on excursions into new territory, on its own or with a few
companions, before finding its way back to the main argument.

The first, shortest, movement, in 4/4 is an expositional andante that doesn’t hang about. Its
rhythmic middle section where the soloist dominates thematic working in dialogue with the band
is framed by lightly scored passages, Bax-like in timbre and transparent texture, the solo clarinet
decorative initially, reflective in the return, carrying the mood into a little epilogue after the
cadenza. The second movement, in 3/4, alternates lyrical and heroic; a sonorous opening
Sibelian motif and an eloquently unfolding pastoral melody which combine with the feeling of a
saraband. There’s an agitated middle section that turns up the dynamics, and a teasing ending,
but the abiding memory is warm reflection, and the melody really does linger on. The finale, back
in 4/4, is real theatre - or film perhaps with the pace, punch, dash and wit of On the Town as an
Ealing Comedy. Technically it’s a workout, not least for the soloist, and structurally it’s the most
complex, combining elements of rondo with variations on a snappy, insistent dotted-note theme
of the sort we meet again in the scherzo of WasteLand Wind Music. It’s subjected to much
undignified treatment, punctuated by a whiff of something lyrical, a meaty cadenza with a brief
backward glance at the second movement and a high-energy flourish to bring matters to
breathless close. The timing is immaculate.
Given his background, it’s not surprising he was drawn to combine his old love and his new,
singer and wind. From the first bar we know that Image in Stone is the work of someone utterly
at home in both worlds and is a piece with personal importance to its composer. It speaks
eloquently, from the heart and with the good stage-composer’s ability to stand slightly back: you
can’t express emotion clearly if it engulfs you. It’s probably this professionalism that allowed him
to write it at all, given the circumstances of its birth. The request was from Timothy Reynish for his
series (begun in 2001 with Matthew Taylor’s Blasket Dances) in memory of William, his life-loving,
warmhearted, companionable, generous, sunny-spirited son who died in his early 30s in a bizarre
mountaineering accident. Many composers have contributed to this series but none has taken the
responsibility more seriously or responded with greater involvement, not only because he and
Reynish were now friends but the score he was working on at the time, the enigmatic Do Not go
Gentle (2005) for wind, brass and percussion, remembers another life and death, closer to home,
of journalist Michael Malik his partner’s father. Sadness of bereavement was much on his mind.

Image in Stone does not wear anguish on its sleeve but makes its point through restraint; the
poets’ observations on death cosmic but the composer’s response personal and positive,
favouring expressive understatement. Effect comes through accumulation rather than explosion
because it is not an anthology bolted together but a true cycle with integrity of purpose and poetic
logic. I can imagine McNeff setting these verses entirely differently in other contexts. He took pains
over texts and instrumentation [2 flutes (2° doubling picc), 2 oboes, cor, 2 clarinets and bass,
bassoon and contra, alto sax, 2 each horns and trumpets, trombone, tuba, timp, harp and 2
percussion - 21 players plus singer (with a range from A below the stave to G above)] and
approved them with Reynish. This done, progress was rapid for notional premiere at the WASBE
conference in Killarney on 8 July 2007. In fact it was played first at BASBWE, Glasgow, on June
29, both by the Irish Youth Wind Ensemble under Reynish himself - joint dedicatees - and sung by
Nora King. The title comes from the opening text, a 1st century grave stele from Greece (a Reynish
family stamping ground for holiday and archaeological activity) telling that a man’s life is short but
as memory of him can outlive all, we shouldn’t be sad. Short and really a prelude, its mood is
celebration not lament, the scoring scintillating, deft, spare, often soloistic as landscape and
memorial stone glitter under a bright sun. It takes a brave man to tackle Donne’s famous Death be
not Proud. McNeff avoids rhetoric or melodrama by the Britten-like device of exposing a vocal line
over stark accompaniment, a slightly grotesque mock funeral march, for the sonnet’s octave
exposition and sestet recapitulation; the fully scored ensemble passage between is emotional
expansion as much as thematic development and relaxes tension only to reapply it. Christina
Rosetti’s Song, an interlude between extended movements, is equally perilous country. McNeff
avoids the usual pitfalls of overplaying or sentimentalising its poignant charm with guileless folklike
melody and the simplest of accompaniment. The final section sets part of Whitman’s On the
Beach at Night from ‘Leaves of Grass’, not the passage Vaughan Williams used in A Sea
Symphony, and a different treatment recalling more The Cloud-Capp’d Towers with its wide
spaced, slow moving modal chords. The feeling of unresolved finality, consolation and reflection
on immortality balances Donne’s message that death has no real victory.
If wind music is Reynish’s passion, opera runs it close, and it was a McNeff opera that brought
them together. “That would make a great wind piece: I’ll commission it” I hear him say - have
indeed often heard him say. He was right, it does and he did. The opera was The Wasteland,
produced by the Modern Music Theatre Troupe in Hemel Hempstead, April 1994 and the Donmar
Warehouse at Covent Garden Festival in May where it was lauded by critics and full houses,it is
scored for an actor who sings, 5 or more singers doubling up on 20 character roles, and 5 players:
clarinet/bass, violin, ’cello, percussion and piano. In 2 acts, it plays just under 1¾ hours plus
interval; the spin-off WasteLand Wind Music for the 2000 BASBWE Festival played in Manchester
on 14 April with the RNCM ensemble under Reynish’s former assistant Clark Rundell, now an
international conductor in his own right. As per brief it uses large one-per-line ensemble scoring
doubling parts for oboe3/cor and bassoon3/contra, lots of fairly standard percussion, piano and, like
Edward Shipley’s Le Soleil and few other scores, electric bass: it’s virtuosic, detailed, strenuous,
needs much rehearsal, skilled dauntless directing and lasts 25’, hence we don’t often find it in
programmes alas. As his first score for such forces it’s amazingly sure-footed, precisely heard and
scored, totally characteristic of both man and medium.
The opera is only vicariously related to the Eliot/Pound work, being a music-theatre treatment of
Martin Rowson’s cartoon epic which treats the poem as a Chandler murder story. The book is an
intellectually sophisticated graphic/pictorial tour-de-force, respectful at one level of the original
poem but more than a little subversive and counter-cultural. Add ‘expressive’ to ‘graphic/pictorial’
and you have McNeff’s own tour-de-force, using such film and cartoon devices as close cutting,
juxtaposing sweep and detail, longshot and closeup, bizarre sight- lines, mixing atmosphere and
action. Events race along at breathless speed cutting away the ground under the feet of the
listener’s expectations. While Janacek’s Cunning little Vixen suite, also drawn from a cartoon-strip
opera, extracts and transcribes music in stage action order, WasteLand Wind Music has no such
correlation, rethinking, reworking and reordering opera ideas with new material to produce a
narrative musical structure. What they share is an imperative to go straight to the pith of an idea, to
rid the music of what Milan Kundera calls automatism, purely technical and often arid activity that
makes work possible with no original ideas if one follows rules. Both McNeff and Janacek
disencumber theirs of such mechanical afflatus: “only the note or passage that says something has
the right to exist”. If Janacek isn’t a McNeff opera hero he ought to be. His structure is strong, fatfree,
it ‘cuts to the chase’ and the tunes are good: you go away whistling them.
WasteLand Wind Music lies between suite and symphony, its extended four movement shape (with
scherzo third) could be seen as a prelude and three symphonic dances. The first is really an
overture and pure exposition, a brief dramatic opening with portentous theme on low wind followed
by an insistent martellato quaver passage framing and interrupted by asides whose ideas appear
and vanish inexplicably. Next the slow movement, initially menacing Hammer horror chords,
pattering percussion and bass-clarinet figures de profundis, giving way to a slow bluesy waltz with
a sleazy sax solo, then an exploratory, developmental middle section with individual solo details, a
reprise of the opening, the waltz again (more wistful now) and a short coda. The fully-fledged
symphonic scherzo is built on a seemingly light-hearted, initially innocent but increasingly frantic
ragtime fox-trot, with overtones of Malcolm Arnold in an Ivesian fairground and something sinister,now lurking, now reaching the surface. After an anarchic middle section climax things disintegrate.
The main theme attempts a comeback but, after a brief presage of the opening to the finale, is
extinguished. Darkness prevails. The finale is the most disquieting and wrong-footing of all,
beginning with delicately scored, rarefied atmospherics framing a Baxian landscape of
interlocking demisemiquaver figures suddenly invaded by another, more urban, less joyous foxtrot.
The pastoral mood returns but increasingly under siege and finally transformed, subverted
maybe, into a sad shadow of the scherzo’s main theme and an unresolved conclusion asking
more than it answers. Rather like the poem indeed. McNeff says (I paraphrase outrageously:
forgive me!) that as well as being stimulating on its own terms, Rowson’s approach to the poem’s
fabric of allusion and reference is an ideal environment for musical exploration. I say McNeff’s
score, strong shapes and primary colours notwithstanding, perfectly catches Rowson’s own
ambiguity of intent, interfacing affectionate lampoon with reverential bravura intellect. But what do
I know?
© 2008 Giles Easterbrook

RNCM WIND ORCHESTRA
The Royal Northern College of Music Wind Orchestra is recognised as one of the leading
conservatoire ensembles in the world. Through a unique series of concerts, commissions,
broadcasts and over 28 professional recordings, the RNCM Wind Orchestra has transformed the
repertoire and performance standards of wind ensemble music in this country.
The RNCM Wind Orchestra was the first conservatoire ensemble to be invited to perform at the
BBC Promenade Concerts, and has also performed at Festivals such as Aldeburgh, Cheltenham,
Huddersfield, Lichfield, Spitalfields, Malvern and Three Choirs, as well as festivals in Holland,
Japan, Switzerland and Poland.

In 2000 the Royal Northern College of Music was awarded a Queen's Anniversary Prize for Higher
Education for its outstanding and pioneering work with the Wind Orchestra. This year's highlights
include concerts with guest conductor Timothy Reynish performing Messiaen's Et Exspecto
Resurrectionem Mortuorum, and new recordings for the Polyphonic and Campion labels.
The students performing on this recording are drawn exclusively from the 1st & 2nd
undergraduate years and the vast majority were 18 or 19 years old at the time of the recording
sessions in April 2008.

Read more...

Reviews


to write a review