Geoffrey Burgon

0 of 5 stars

Viola Concerto ‘Ghosts of the Dance’
Cello Concerto
Merciless Beauty

Philip Dukes (viola)

Josephine Knight (cello)

Sarah Connolly (mezzo-soprano)

City of London Sinfonia
Rumon Gamba

Recorded 29-30 September (concertos) & 22 December 2009 at Blackheath Halls, London

Reviewed by: Peter Joelson

Reviewed: October 2010
Duration: 63 minutes



While Geoffrey Burgon (1941-2010) is possibly best-known for music for film and television, his catalogue of works includes a wide variety including orchestral, vocal, choral and chamber music. His setting of the “Nunc Dimittis” used at the end of each episode of the television adaptation of “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” (1979) became very popular, and was very soon incorporated into the music for Evensong in many cathedrals and churches. Burgon had many requests for a setting of the “Magnificat” and satisfied such wishes a short time later. Youngsters and their parents will have got to know Burgon’s work from music contributing to “Doctor Who” and “The Chronicles of Narnia”, and the music for “Brideshead Revisited” remains instantly recognisable.

The earliest work on this Chandos release is the song cycle “Merciless Beauty”. This was completed in 1997 for countertenor James Bowman with whom Burgon recorded the work for ASV. It’s sung here by Sarah Connolly with golden tone, every word clear. Connolly was the composer’s choice for this second recording, an inspired one giving a different flavour to the settings of poems about love, largely thwarted. Three early texts, one anonymous, the others by Blake and Chaucer are completed by four contemporary ones by Kit Wright (born 1944). Connolly’s portrayal of the search for love through the suburbs of London in ‘Tune for an Ice-Cream Van’ brings out the desperation of such a quest, and coupled with the strains of “London Bridge is Falling Down” and Mahler’s “Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen” brings a touch of a bad dream to the events. Blake’s “The Sick Rose” in just a couple of minutes has Connolly weaving the words round the orchestra’s painting of the plant infected by its wriggling “invisible worm”.

Josephine Knight brings out the night-time feeling to the Cello Concerto (2007) with great success. During its composition the composer consulted Knight about the solo part and in this first recording she and the orchestra put across the composer’s youthful experience of film noir with its underlying menace and searching.

Philip Dukes, soloist in this first recording of the Viola Concerto, commissioned the work and is its dedicatee. Written in 2008 and first performed in June 2009, this work harks back somewhat to Burgon’s youth, with his experience as a jazz trumpeter. Inspired by both American jazz and dance music of the 1930s and 1940s, the three movements are titled dances, and the first gives an instant impression of a club late at night, the viola almost a contralto vocalist. There is something, too, of the dance endurance competitions common in the Depression, dancing till you drop from sheer exhaustion; the second movement with its Tango element has the soloist woven with the clarinet, the players in beautiful synchronisation. The finale has an energetic centre with a nod to Leonard Bernstein, and the conclusion reflects the opening of the work, with its last remaining pair on the dance floor – just, as Burgon suggested, a painting by Edward Hopper.

Geoffrey Burgon attended all the sessions for this very fine release. The orchestra’s contribution is excellent with suitably tight ensemble, and louche rhythms when required. Chandos’s fine recording allows all details to be heard. Contemporary, yet conservatively tonal, Burgon’s music fully deserves a wide audience.

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