Wednesday 11 September 2019

A terrific place to start an exploration of Jonathan Dove's non-operatic output: Lawrence Zazzo, BBC Philharmonic, Timothy Redmond on Orchid Classics

Jonathan Dove: Orchestral Music - Orchid Classics
Jonathan Dove Hojoko (An Account of my Hut), Gaia Theory, orchestral works; Lawrence Zazzo, BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, Timothy Redmond; Orchid Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 5 September 2019 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
A slightly different side to Jonathan Dove with a selection of music for orchestra alongside a large-scale scena for counter-tenor and orchestra

Calling this disc, from Orchid Classics, The Orchestral Music of Jonathan Dove is, perhaps, somewhat misleading as the disc's centrepiece is Jonathan Dove's Hojoki (An Account of my Hut), his 30-minute dramatic cantata for counter-tenor and orchestra, here performed by Lawrence Zazzo and the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Timothy Redmond. Around this, Redmond and the orchestra place four of Dove's orchestral pieces,  Run to the Edge (2003), The Ringing Isle (1997), Airport Scenes (2006) and the relatively substantial Gaia Theory (2014).

Hojoki (An Account of my Hut) is a setting of a 13th century Japanese text by the poet Kamo no Chame (1153-1216) in a translation by Donald Keene. It is quite a wordy text, and on this recording we are reliant of Lawrence Zazzo's fine (but not perfect) diction as there is no printed text. Zazzo narrates a series of (real) natural disasters which befell Japan in the poet's lifetime, narrated from his old age when he has retreated to the little hut of the title.

It is a slightly curious story but Zazzo has great fun with it and proves to be an avid story-teller.
Dove shapes the vocal line to the text, moving from lyrical undulations to vivid dramatic details. The orchestra accompaniment uses familiar Jonathan Dove style rhythms and textures, but also illustrates and punctuates the vocal descriptions, giving us some brilliant moments including some delightful exotic music. Some of the events narrated are terrible indeed, and Zazzo proves a riveting story-teller. The mood changes for the last quarter of the piece, when the narrator arrives at his hut and we have a sense of pastoral, mystical, rhapsodic lyricism.

The work was premiered in 2006 by Zazzo, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Jiří Bělohlávek, though in fact it was written for David Daniels but he was ill and Zazzo learned it for the premiere in a matter of days. From the performance on this disc, Zazzo has clearly made the work his own. Has anyone ever thought of staging it?

The disc starts with Run to the Edge which was written for the London Schools Symphony Orchestra's tour to Japan in 2003 (an orchestra that Dove played in, in his youth, under Simon Rattle!). It receives an alive and very present performance, full of suppressed excitement leading, eventually, to dazzling ecstasy.  

The Ringing Isle was written in 1997 for the 50th anniversary of the Association of British Orchestra. The name comes from a phrase coined by George Frideric Handel to describe his impression of the proliferation of church bells in England, and a series of bell-ringing changes informs the music. Starting with a delicate unfolding it moves towards exciting, brilliant textures before dying away.

Dove's opera Flight (1997) remains, perhaps, his best-known work. Airport Scenes is a four-movement orchestral suite, based on the opera, commissioned for Warwick University in 2006 by Paul McGrath who had conducted the Belgian premiere of the opera The four scenes are 'Take-Off', 'Storm', 'Dawn Landing', 'Departures', and they form a lively and quite upbeat yet contrasting series of relatively short movements which provide a delightful re-visiting of material from the opera.

Gaia Theory is the most recent work on the disc, written in 2014 and based on the writings of James Lovelock, with its inspiration as the idea of creation 'locked in a sort of dance in which everything changes together'. There are three movements for very large orchestra, 'Lively', 'Very Spacious', 'Dancing'. Again it is Dove's sheer invention which impresses, combining Lovelock's ideas and his image of everything dancing together into a rather engaging suite. The opening movement is full of exuberance, whilst the second is more magical in its textures and the final movement is one of Dove's rhythmic dances which starts from a simple figure and simple grows, and grows and grows. Ironically, given the relative paucity of Dove's large-scale orchestral music on disc, Gaia Theory has already been recorded on NMC as a companion to Dove's cantata A Brief History of Creation. [see my review].

This disc is a lovely exploration of Dove's large-scale music for orchestra, and the performances from the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra and Timothy Redmond are fine indeed, with a similarly engaged performance from counter-tenor Lawrence Zazzo. This is a terrific place to start an exploration of Dove's non-operatic output.

Jonathan Dove (born 1959) - Run to the Edge (2003)
Jonathan Dove - The Ringing Isle (1997)
Jonathan Dove - Hojoki (An Account of my Hut) (2006)
Jonathan Dove - Airport Scenes (2006)
Jonathan Dove - Gaia Theory (2014)
Lawrence Zazzo (counter-tenor)
BBC Philharmonic Orchestra
Timothy Redmond (conductor)
Recorded 5-7 September 2018 at MediaCity, Salford

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