Blake, H Lifecycle
Howard Blake is best known for his 1982 score for the animated film The Snowman. ‘Walking in the air’ has become his Prelude in C sharp minor, his Land of Hope and Glory, quite overshadowing his 500-plus other works, one of which is this enchanting cycle. Its composition spans 40 years of Blake’s creative life, 24 miniatures, one each in all the major and minor keys, arranged in a sequence of falling fifths beginning in B minor and ending in F sharp major. (Is it rueful acknowledgement that makes ‘Walking in the air’ the cycle’s C sharp minor contribution?).
Blake’s titles and tonal language are unapologetically of the 19th century. Dissonant harmonies and jazz are employed infrequently. Blake, you see, writes tunes – an unfashionable gift (and, judging from the work of his peers, a rare one, too). No doubt these Lyric Pieces for the 21st century will be dismissed in some quarters as lightweight trifles. I think there is more to them, expertly and economically crafted as they are (Blake studied piano with Harold Craxton and composition with Howard Ferguson). In some cases, a secure finger technique is demanded (try Toccatina and Dance of the Hunters). Here, and in the mood of quiet reflection that predominates, William Chen proves an ideal champion.
Graced by Robert Matthew-Walker’s eloquent booklet-notes and a track-listing that includes the date, place and source of each work’s composition, this first recording of Lifecycle shows that there is still much to be said for melody, traditional harmony and conservative values.