Philip Spratley – Music for String Orchestra

0 of 5 stars

Sinfonietta, Op.6
Clarinet Concertino, Byard’s Leap, Op.27
Recorder Concertino, A Gallery of Cats, Op.26
Suite, In Outlaw Country, Op.12b

Royal Ballet Sinfonia
Barry Wordsworth [Sinfonietta]

Linda Merrick (clarinet); John Turner (recorders); Tracey Redfern (trumpet); Eira Lynn Jones (harp)
Manchester Sinfonia
Philip Spratley

Sinfonietta recorded 16 March 2007 in Angel Studios, London; remainder recorded on 15 September 2008 in St Thomas’ Church, Hillgate, Stockport

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: May 2010
TOCC 0088
Duration: 72 minutes



One very helpful feature of the presentation of compact discs issued by Toccata Classics is the useful précis that is found on the back of the jewel case: not only informative but accurate. Of the music of Nottingham-born composer Philip Spratley (born 1942), such comments as “fresh, original and immediately attractive … English folksong … strongly evocative of the countryside” and with targeted references to Shostakovich (somewhat, as it turns out), Britten, Tippett, Holst and Vaughan Williams all prove to be apposite, there being something personal within Spratley’s music rather than it being merely derivative.

The Sinfonietta is a real find, a substantial 26-minute, four-movement piece that engages immediately with its rhythms and melodies, and although belonging to a recognisable musical world (the Britten of Simple Symphony and the Tippett of Concerto for Double String Orchestra) there is delight to be had from new corners of these possibilities being explored; nothing is predictable, and there is most certainly beauty, vitality and wit in abundance, all finely delivered by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia and Barry Wordsworth; very engaging for all that the recorded sound is too ambient and rather strident.

“Music for String Orchestra” is this release’s overall title. Add timpani (and military drum or the timps played in a certain way?) to the Sinfonietta; and the remaining works also enjoy additional colours. These latter three pieces are conducted by the composer and recorded in a more agreeable acoustic. The Clarinet Concertino is named after a horse, Byard, who was capable of “amazing leaps”. It’s a lovely work, very lyrical and expressive, a little melancholy, the quicker music of the first movement also having its share of rumination; the second one is quite dark; the finale (introducing a woodblock) prances delightfully – there is a story being told, relayed by the composer in his written commentary for the booklet, and which transcribes memorably into music.

A Gallery of Cats is a seven-movement continuously-played (fast/slow/characterful) dance-suite for a variety of recorders and strings. Spratley likes his cats, I like his music, and the plangent recorders have a sound all their own. In Outlaw Country is a revision of an unperformed large-orchestra work, here for strings with trumpet and harp. We’re in Robin Hood country, although other characters surface in music incisive and tender, pleasing, skilful, and worth hearing and returning to. The composer himself teases fine performances and dedicated solo playing.

To be honest, I had not heard of Philip Spratley prior to this release, let alone any of his music, and he seems unfairly neglected. Good on Toccata Classics for sharing Spratley with us – a good musical cause well served.

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