PIPINGS AND BOWINGS
Michael Hurd’s chamber music is very approachable indeed. The Violin Sonata heads a quartet of works written for small forces and for solo piano. None proves less then engaging and enjoyable. Written in 1979 and revised six years later it’s actually, at only thirteen or so minutes, his most extensive chamber work. It’s got a lyrical, Les Six sort of appeal, and contains a very brief but ardent slow movement, topped by a finale of charming and light hearted variations; slightly folksy too. The Five Preludes, for piano, are compact and valuable. They range from a quite austere Invention, to a laid-back waltz, and include an ascending and descending triadic chorale.
By comparison the Sonatina for recorder and piano is an early work, written in 1964 and revised in 2002. Maybe it reflects some of the influence of Lennox Berkeley, and there’s warm melodic appeal throughout. The slow movement is especially lovely, and John Turner turns to the descant recorder for the vitality-plus finale. Turner does the honours for Hurd’s last work, the 2004 Three-Piece Suite (nice title) for recorder and string quartet. It shows no diminution in communicative qualities, or in terms of lyricism and wit, not least in the gawky dance finale.
Jonathan Woolf, MusicWeb International
Three forgotten Britons profiled in varied ensemble creations. This recital brings together a sequence of 10 brief works by three British composers, in music above all designed to please rather than challenge. Michael Hurd (1928-2006), after studying at Oxford, held various musical posts before deciding to divide his time between composing and writing books. For a time he studied with Lennox Berkeley but his music is markedly more tuneful than that of his mentor, always easily lyrical with most of his works here ending with a jauntily attractive finale.
The three-movement Violin Sonata is the most substantial work, ending with the longest movement, a set of free variations, the concluding one the most light-hearted. The Five preludes for piano are charming miniatures, nicely contrasted, leading to the Sonatina for recorder and piano, with a central songful slow movement and jaunty finale. Similar in layout but even more compact is the Three-Piece Suite for recorder and string quartet, dominated by the recorder.
Edward Greenfield, Gramophone
Three English composers who were unfashionably lyrical last century delight us now. Michael Hurd's sonata for violin and piano and five piano preludes have beguiling warmth, while Robin Milford's music echoes his inner melancholy. But it is Dick Blackford's recorder concerto that takes the instrument beyond the ‘merrie England' cliché.
Phillip Sommerich, Classical Music
On the outside cover Métier lists four performers: recorder (John Turner), piano (Peter Lawson), violin (Richard Howarth) and cello (Jonathan Price). The Manchester Chamber Ensemble has a line to itself. Inside the booklet, Turner, Lawson and Howarth reappear, teamed together minus Price, while members of the MCE are nominated separately as Howarth, Sarah Whittingham (violin), Richard Williamson ( viola ) and Jonathan Price (cello).
These six players: recorder, piano, two violins, viola and cello are among the busiest, most truly professional chamber players in the business. Their varied ensemble is typified by a pleasing, measured equanimity and innate sense of proportion; an ideal approach in music of pastoral character.
The three composers are first mentioned by name inside the CD booklet. This release steers well clear of bigger guns among twentieth century British composers: the likes of (in no particular order) Walton, Tippett, Finzi, Delius, Moeran, Vaughan Williams, Bax, Maxwell Davies, Rubbra, Britten, Ireland and Elgar.
The opening item is Hurd's three movement Violin and Piano Sonata (1979, revised 1985 ) with Howarth and Lawson. At a few seconds shy of thirteen and a half minutes, this sonata is the most substantial work in Hurd's sparse chamber music oeuvre. Like much of his music, that on Pipings and Bowings has vestiges of the Second Viennese School rubbing shoulders with hints of Poulenc, Satie and Koechlin.
Tracks 4-8 comprise five miniature Preludes for solo piano (1989); the penultimate invention ( Adagio tranquillo 3'08") is the one item lasting more than two minutes. The variety continues in a Sonatina with Recorder and Piano ( 1964, revised 2002 ), a perfectly balanced piece, with polar allegros wrapped around a Largo e tranquillo.
Hurd's contribution ends with a still briefer Three-piece suite for Recorder and String Quartet ( 2004 ). In summing up his own work, Hurd regarded it as '... accessible, conventional and very tuneful'. He continued: 'I have written a great deal for adventurous amateurs and for children. I believe a composer 's primary duty is to be useful to the community he finds himself in. Performers should occasionally be stretched - but never broken.'
Throughout the disc there's lyrical balm to spare; truly a panacea for the stressed or troubled in spirit. Restful indeed.
Howard Smith, Music and Vision