Laurence Vittes, in his review of Garth Baxter’s songs ‘Ask the Moon’ (5/18), rightly categorised his idiom as ‘simple, straightforward, old-fashioned romantic’. Here the focus is on chamber and instrumental works, although three – the violin-and-piano duets Could You Dream What I Dream and Il y a longtemps, plus the piano solo Romance Without Words – all derive from his two-act opera Lily.
So far as I can determine, the works are of relatively recent provenance, although no dates – or, indeed, useful information – are provided (Navona’s skimpy documentation, even on their website, remains a recurrent niggle). The composer’s website does provide background information but no dates of composition aside from – of the works featured here – Romance Without Words being premiered in 2011 and the guitar duo Edgefield three years later. Even his opera, which has its own website(!), gives no dates.
These 10 works provide a rounded picture of what Baxter (b1946) is about as a composer. Full of charm and melody, each is a miniature tone picture or character study (none runs to 10 minutes, the shortest barely past five), with little abstract compositional rigour. Sometimes the music takes rather saccharine turns, as in the ‘Lily’ pieces; several others have a feeling of popular light jazz about them. The most musically satisfying are the title-track, Resistance, and Ballade for a Princess, both expertly rendered by Andrew Stewart, who accompanies Melissa Wertheimer in the diptych The Silver Run, as well as the piano trio From the Headwaters. I did not warm much to violinist Nicholas Currie’s rather edgy intonation in the duos (less problematic in the performance by the Azimuth Quartet – of which he is leader – of MacPherson’s Lament); otherwise the performances, recorded at five different locations on nine different dates during 2015 18, are captivating and the finished sound remarkably consistent.