Music by Alan Bush

Author: 
Michael Oliver

Music by Alan Bush

  • Nocturne
  • Relinquishment
  • Lyric Interlude
  • Voices of the Prophets
  • English Suite

This collection, arriving in good time for Alan Bush's ninety-fifth birthday in December, nearly doubles the amount of his music currently available on CD ('nearly' because the only other disc of his work, an Altarus CD devoted to his keyboard pieces, also includes the beautiful Nocturne). I don't want to sound ungrateful, but it will be a shame and a disgrace if the year passes without a recording of at least one of Bush's major orchestral works, preferably one of the operas and a representative selection of his choral music. His conservative style and his anything but conservative political views (a lifelong and unrepentant Marxist, all of his four operas had their premieres in the unlamented so-called German Democratic Republic) are the reasons usually put forward for this continued neglect. The only argument needed to rebut them is that he is a very good composer indeed, better by far than some who have in recent years been recorded much more extensively. From that point of view this CD has been admirably compiled, it contains characteristic works of real substance that give an appetite-whetting glimpse of the stature of his symphonies, concertos and dramatic works. Even a comparative miniature like the Nocturne, a gentle and delicate piece, has nevertheless a largeness of scale that is typical of Bush, while Voices of the Prophets (a set of four songs written for Peter Pears and Benjamin Britten) is filled with gestures of such bold expansiveness that they tax both singer and pianist to the utmost. They are memorable in their melodiousness, their strong grand lines and their obviously sincere expression of a confident secular faith; their neglect is (apart from their sheer difficulty for the performers) inexplicable.
In a way, Bush's political radicalism and his musical conservatism are linked. In his manner and his occasional writings, even his appearance, he seems much more like a reforming patrician Whig than a proletarian revolutionary (John Amis once remarked, memorably and not jokingly, that he ''could see Alan as a bishop''). His deeper roots, some of them audibly shared with his admirer Michael Tippett, are heard in the English Suite, which meditates on the beauty and vigour of two folk tunes and a plainchant melody with a mastery of resourceful counterpoint that links him to the recent tradition of English string writing but also the great age of polyphony. Relinquishment, no less characteristically, generates a beautiful lyricism from learned, even rather austere part-writing. Within a very brief space the Lyric Interlude demonstrates more of Bush's range, from a tough seriousness to delicate fantasy.
The performances are good throughout, those of the solo piano pieces especially, the recordings are excellent, though that of Voices of the Prophets, made at a public concert, is a little recessed. If you've ever assumed, because of his political stance, that Bush's music is austerely grey or in any way toes the party line, this admirable record will change your mind.'

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