RICHARD BLACKFORD (b.1954): The Great Animal Orchestra - Symphony for Orchestra and Wild Soundscapes, Saint-Säens/Blackford: Carnival of the Animals
Catalogue Number: 12Q065
Reference: NI 6274
Description: First and foremost, this is a substantial, neoromantic symphony; its unorthodox 'instrumentation', a significant aspect of the work's sound - and indeed, its raison d'être - is secondary. The composer was inspired by the field recordings of Sound Ecologist Bernie Krause to integrate the natural spectrum of animal sounds into a concert work. What sets this apart from previous pieces incorporating wildlife recordings is the diversity of animals represented, and the way in which they are closely integrated into the musical fabric, rather than forming a separate layer, due to the precision and flexibility with which the samples are treated. A concertante part is assembled from Krause's recordings of a variety of creatures, samples of which are cued in real time from a keyboard, while the orchestra joins in, sometimes in more or less imitative gestures, sometimes in the form of more conventional orchestral accompaniment or commentary on the contribution of a soloist. The orchestral framework of the piece is basically twentieth century mainstream tonal, with shades of Vaughan Williams, Holst, Gershwin and Prokofiev. The piece falls into five movements, the first introducing a theme that recurs throughout the entire work, with a playful scherzo - tree frogs and percussion - placed second, and a moving and elegaic slow movement that proceeds from the mournful cries of wolves and the lament of a beaver for its mate, killed by game wardens. The finale consists of variations on a theme derived from the extended melodic song of a wren; like the rest of the work, as musically satisfying as it is inventive. BBC National Orchestra of Wales; Martyn Brabbins.