Alwyn, Berkeley, Gorb, Manduell & Stoker: The Fabulous Sir John

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Sir John Manduell (1928-2017) was a pivotal figure in British music – as composer, BBC producer, first principal of the Northern Royal College of Music...

Sir John Manduell (1928-2017) was a pivotal figure in British music – as composer, BBC producer, first principal of the Northern Royal College of Music and founder of the European Opera Centre. Beloved and revered by musicians, yet someone whose name is shamefully little known outside the music and broadcasting professions. This album is a sequel to ‘Songs for Sir John’ (DDA 25210) which in tribute to Sir John presented works by 16 composers from more than one generation. On this new album we present music by Sir John himself, and by William Alwyn, Michael Berkeley, Adam Gorb and Richard Stoker, all well crafted works which will give great enjoyment as well as perhaps inspiring musicians to add them to their repertoire. Even without the Manduell connection this is a wonderfully constructed program of new chamber and vocal music. The performers, like Sir John, are based in and around Manchester, England, which is a dynamic ‘hotspot’ for fine musical creativity.


Sir John Manduell (1928-2017), composer and academic, crucially the first Principal of Manchester’s Royal Northern College of Music, is still much loved and revered. So much so that this is the second tribute disc from The Divine Art. The composers featured are very much part of the Manchester scene.

Adam Gorb’s Aria for Sir John is a touchingly melodic little piece for recorder and string quartet. Next comes a sequence of pieces by Manduell himself. After an edgily haunting and reserved Elegy for string quartet there’s a trippingly complex Recitative and Aria in similar language, The Trois Chansons are for soprano and piano. Here, Manduell responds with natural melodic pliancy to the texts. These are indeed early works of his and this explains the less relentless and even straightforward melodic style. Of the three, ‘D’un vanneur de blé aux vents’ was also set, at about the same age, as Manduell by Lennox Berkeley, in 1925, Young men’s songs then - sung here by Rachel Speirs. She has lyric instincts and operatic powers in reserve and the latter are certainly engaged by ‘À sa dame malade’.

The short Bell Birds from Nelson is for John Turner’s solo recorders (treble and descant) . It was written for the 70th birthday of a composer little recalled, Anthony Gilbert. Its trills and chirps bespeak a virtuoso piece evidently well prepared.

Nocturne and Scherzo is for clarinet and string trio and was completed as a dedication piece to Alun Hoddinott in 1967. It adheres to Manduell’s style as in the Elegy and Recitative and Aria. There’s fear afoot in the sinister Nocturne.

In like style there’s the passingly brief and cheeky Tom's Twinkle for recorder and piano. The title prepares you for the score’s brevity. It was written in memory of calligrapher, artist and frankly lyrical composer Tom Pitfield. Michael Berkeley’s A Dark Waltz for recorder and string quartet is a thoughtful piece and escapes any suggestion of the waltz having intoxication; but then it was written in memory of Sir John. It is most adroitly short and with a touching poignancy.
William Alwyn’s Five Songs from 'Songs of Innocence' are polished little Blake settings for soprano and string quartet and comfortably join the delectable output of Geoffrey Bush and Adrian Cruft from many years later. These songs are from May 1931. David Matthews is to be thanked for making these songs a practical performing entity. Apparently, the score is hard to read. There is something of Britten in the strikingly humorous ‘bounce’ of ‘Laughing Song’. The five end with the thoughtful ‘Nurse’s Song’. All credit to Alwyn for concluding the sequence with a down beat and a shiver.

Richard Stoker’s Memento Mary Magdalene is a lament for Mary for recorder and string quartet. Stoker deserves credit for following such an unexpected subject. The music sinks like a stiletto under the skin and is most moving. Surely, it is time for more Stoker including his operas Therèse Raquin and Johnson Preserv’d, the symphonies, concert overtures and three each string quartets and violin sonatas. Here is a most fastidious composer who yet seeks out the listener’s heart. With Manduell he was a fellow Berkeley pupil.

The styles here range from severe to sweet but without the juiciest succulence. The notes in the CD booklet, which is neatly and legibly laid out, are all in English only and are extensive. Sung texts are there, but in the case of Sir John’s songs, are not translated into English. The booklet also includes a set of recollections of Sir John from Bryan Fox, Kent Nagano and Linda Merrick.

--MusicWeb International (Rob Barnett)

Product Description:

  • Release Date: July 08, 2022

  • UPC: 809730523526

  • Catalog Number: DDA25235

  • Label: Divine Art

  • Number of Discs: 1

  • Period: 20th Century

  • Composer: William Alwyn, Michael Berkeley, Adam Gorb, John Manduell, Richard Stoker

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Victoria String Quartet

  • Performer: Rachel Speirs, Linda Merrick, Benedict Holland, Kim Becker, Jennifer Langridge, Peter Lawson