Seachanges / Orchestral Music – Raymond Deane
‘Since greybeards inform us that youth will decay’ is the title of one of Beethoven’s Irish folksong arrangements, and it came to my mind when I was asked to review the two recent CDs of music by Raymond Deane. Thc song line kept sticking in my head and it made me think about Raymond’s newly-grown grey beard and about maturity and how it shows in music. It is about eleven years ago since, on a visit to my then home in Cologne, Raymond explained to me that the years from his early studies in Cologne and Berlin until c. 1988 were a period of learning, assimilating and eventual overcoming of that assimilation. It is interesting to note that none of the works recorded on these two disks were written before 1988.
But if enlightened maturity is expected from these two CDs it may be refreshing to note that Raymond Deane’s music sounds as young and exciting as one could possibly hope, albeit with the occasional exception. Sadly, the most recent composition, which opens the CD of chamber music published last year in Black Box Music’s ‘20th century Irish’ series, is one such exception, the string quartet Brown Studies comosed in 1998. It was not the best choice to open the CD with, since an opening piece needs to grip the listener’s attention more effectively than Brown Studies does. The rather long opening, consisting of sustained, extreme, high and low registers is inclined to turn off the attention before it has begun to develop. The second movement, ‘Scattering’, has better opening qualities, but, of course, in this work it functions as a scherzo. The ‘Interlude I’ with subsequent ‘Centr-fugue’ again begins silent and slow, but never quite moves forward from there; in fact, I had the impression that the Vanbrugh Quartet almost fell asleep during this movement. But even the fourth movement, which does get off the ground, cannot save the work as a whole – I just feel unable to decide whether the work is so uneven or its interpretation.
It would have served the CD better if Brown Studies had come at the end. Then, by coincidence, there would have been a chronological order on the CD and the piano work After-Pieces (1989-90) would have made a formidable opening. In fact, the more I listen to it the more they become my new Deane favourite, the imaginative first movement By the Clear Dark Fountain, which alludes to the French folksong ‘A la claire fontaine’, standing out especially. Note the addition of the word ‘Dark’ in the title compared to the French one, and it is just the element that Deane has added to the character of the piece. Hugh Tinney’s playing is a congenial achievement and the composer must be very proud of this interpretation.
Another possibility to open the CD with would have been the Macabre Trilogy, the constituents of which form the rest of the CD. Marche Oubliée (1996), Catacombs (1994) and Seachanges (with Danse Macabre) (1993-4) are all one-movement-works, with a piano trio as the core instrumentation and an additional clarinet in Catacombs and flute/piccolo and percussion in Seachanges. In the order Deane put them, as a trilogy, they gradually increase in the number of instruments involved. Otherwise, they are only loosely connected. All three arc concerned with the universal theme of death in various guises, and all add a dimension of black humour to the mix of expressions in Deane’s music, of which irony, for instance, is audible in some of his earlier music. In Marche Oubliée the work occasionally returns to a march rhythm – a march of the dead, as the composer informs us in the CD booklet – so effectively, in fact, that in a central section one believes they are hearing the clattcring of the skeletons. Catacombs refers to a specific section in Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. There are, therefore, many straightforward tonal passages that often concentrate in three instruments while the fourth destroys the harmony deliberately. Seachanges then, which gave the CD its title, is very obviously inspircd by thc composer’s visit to Mexico, and the changes of perception that the title suggest are often cxpresscd by thc changes from piccolo to flute, the latter representing the Irish side. All three pieces are very wcll interpreted by the Schubert Ensemble of London and Reservoir and I hope that Raymond will agree.
That Raymond Deane’s music in almost every instance expresses something, and sometimes borders on programme music, is also evident on the CD of orchestral music, published by Marco Polo in 1999. It features three examples of the concerto type. The CD begins with Quaternion (1988) for piano and orchestra, followed by Krespel’s Concerto (1990) for violin and orchestra and closes with the Oboe Concerto (1994). Quaternion was composed in the year Raymond described as his crucial year, which marked the beginning of his mature style, characterised by strong elcments of irony, satire, sarcasm or black humour. All three works represent re-interpretations of the traditional concerto. The four movements of Quaternion feature different ways of combining piano and orchestra. In the first, the two forces alternate, never playing together; in the second wc hear the orchestra alone; in the third the piano alone; and in the fourth they start at extreme ends of their scales and move downwards and upwards only to meet very shortly in the middle. The idea is fun, but is it artistically convincing? I quite Iikc the fourth movement, but cannot say the same of the work as whole. Pianist Anthony Byrne certainly does everything to do the work justice. Violinist Ian Smale and oboist Matthew Manning are no less dedicatcd performcrs in the other works, as is undoubtedly the NSO under Colman Pearce. Krespel’s Concerto and the Oboe Concerto are interesting experiments with form that convince me more than Quaternion and are wholeheartedly recommended.
First published in JMI: The Journal of Music in Ireland, Vol. 1 No. 3 (March–April 2001), pp. 27–28.
Published on 1 March 2001