EDWARD COWIE (b.1943): Clarinet Concerto No. 2, Concerto for Orchestra.

Catalogue Number: 07W059

Label: Metier

Reference: msv 92108

Format: CD

Price: $13.98

Description: Two powerful, concentrated works with the impact of the grandeur and energy of natural forces. Cowie is an unique figure, hard to classify. His forms, harmonic language and rhythmic processes are free and constantly in flux - not surprising for a composer who regards music as a natural phenomenon rather than an intellectual pursuit - yet highly organized and disciplined, reminding us that he was well versed in serialism before finding it too restricting and setting out on his own path: "Music is a biological phenomenon and thus a form of ‘behavior’; Music is just one part of a vast interconnecting formal and cosmic dynamic; I am more inspired by natural history than musical history." The Clarinet Concerto was written for Alan Hacker, and accordingly contains many virtuosic demands and some innovative timbral requirements, though always in the service of a strong narrative drama. Living in England's Lake District, Cowie was drawn into the world of painter and writer John Ruskin, who drew inspiration from the area but who, in later years, was of delicate mind, prone to disturbing visions and terrors in the mists of the fells. Cowie himself has suffered from Generalised Anxiety Disorder, and has even written a piece about it (05V056), so his insight into Ruskin's mental and emotional state certainly informs his depiction of natural beauty suddenly becoming irrationally threatening and nightmarish and then being restored to normality with no external change having occurred. Dissonant, agitated earlier sections, with angular, atonal commentary from the soloist, suggest the ominous lakes and gloomy fells, and the overwhelming emotional trauma that they evoke in Ruskin's disturbed mind, interspersed with slower and more tonally centred material before an overwhelming climax that looms out of the mist like an apparition of sinister prehistoric menhirs. A kind of glowing transfiguration occurs at the work’s conclusion - clearly Ruskin "reassembl[ing his] fragmented soul in the bronze and gold of the setting sun." The masterly Concerto for Orchestra, subtitled "Studies in the Movement of Water" took its inspiration from Cowie's experiences of the complex currents of the ocean off the north-west coast of the UK, and also from Leonardo da Vinci's similarly titled studies. The waters of the sea and estuarine landscape of that area experience "encyclopaedic extremes of calm, order and tempestuous chaos.", including a remarkable tidal 'bore', a kind of localized tsunami. The music evolves organically, in layers, evoking still surfaces with turbulent deep currents beneath, or rushing surface eddies above unfathomable depths. The large orchestra is divided into four distinct choirs, furthering the sense of irresistible energy and motion (the opening, perhaps unintentionally, perhaps not, evokes the famous "circling chord" in Stockhausen’s Gruppen). The piece plays continuously but falls into three sections, the outer ones faster and more dissonant, the center becalmed, with a distinct tonal center but with a sense of swirling energy in the deep, as vivid a depiction of the power of the sea as Maxwell Davies' evocation of the ebb and flow of the thrillingly treacherous waters of of Hoy Sound that made his Second Symphony (coincidentally composed at around the same time - there must have been something in the water {sorry!}) such an unforgettable experience. Alan Hacker (clarinet), Royal Liverpool. Philharmonic Orchestra; Howard Williams. Original 1984 Hyperion LP release.


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