HOWARD SKEMPTON (b.1947): Man and Bat for Baritone and Ensemble, Piano Concerto (version for piano and string quartet), The Moon is Flashing for Tenor and Ensemble, Eternity’s Sunrise for Ensemble.
Catalogue Number: 11V058
Label: First Hand Records
Description: A nice cross-section of Skempton's deceptively 'simple' music, in his unique and instantly recognizable style, which depends entirely on nuances of balance and color, never virtuosity nor extrovert drama to make its effect. Everything is precise, ordered, calibrated and perfectly balanced. The calm detachment of Skempton’s approach brings a different perspective to D.H. Lawrence's visceral verse in Man and Bat. Ostensibly there is a certain breathlessness, panic, or desperation to the narrative; Skempton’s deadpan presentation of the text brings out the humor and irony of the poem - all that fuss about a harmless little bat! Roderick Williams pens an admiring appraisal in the booklet, in which he suggests that Man and Bat is "the perfect source poem, suiting Howard’s quirky sense of humor and unique music language to a tee." The delicate accompaniment to the late passages that briefly state what the poem is really about match the text perfectly. The Piano Concerto - here in the composer’s arrangement for piano quintet, with the spare piano part unchanged - is exactly what Skempton's admirers expect; nonchalant, cool and detached, full of pleasing melodies and satisfyingly elegant harmonic progressions. The setting of Lawrence’s wonderful poem "Snake" is exactly what the text suggests. the slow holding of breath, tense and expectant, the spare, hypnotic, drowsy accompaniment like the Sicilian heat-haze that forms the background to the still, coiled drama. Lawrence's poem is accompanied by two brief prefatory songs to texts by the composer and multi-disciplinary artist Chris Newman, both very English in their wry understatement. Eternity’s Sunrise is a set of variations on a melody that sets William Blake's poem "Eternity", with changing harmony, instrumentation and flowing counterpoint with each successive statement. Roderick Williams (baritone). Tim Horton (piano), James Gilchrist (tenor), Ensemble 360.