Review By Allen Gimbel,American Record Guide,November 2011
This collection of chamber music for strings opens with Spieltrieb (2008), a string quartet that deals with the idea of “the urge to play” in music, which the composer explores in what amounts to a 14-minute compositional improvisation. Pleasantly tonal, it’s a stream-of-consciousness elaboration of a string of unassuming ideas, ending with a lovely nativity song…
Review By Robert R. Reilly,Catholic News Agency,October 2011
This is all immediately likable music. Read complete review
Review By Ian Lace,MusicWeb International,October 2011
Blake’s lovely pastoral music for A Month in the Country won him the British Film Institute’s Anthony Asquith Award for Musical Excellence. In 1992 Blake created a suite for string orchestra from his film score which he later transcribed most effectively for string quartet. The music speaks eloquently of the healing balm—the serenity of the English countryside—experienced by the two soldiers who had suffered the horrors of the Great War. The opening Idyll is a tranquil evocation of a sunlit peaceful countryside, all still except for the warbling of birds: upper divided strings tremolando. The brief second movement is a march with unfeeling, remorseless rhythms as the soldiers march blindly to their fate. The central Elegy: Adagio
The curiously named Spieltrieb (Schiller’s term for play) is something of a musical game, Blake deciding to write ‘whatever came into my head’ and then allowing the material to go ‘wherever it felt like going’. Consequently this is a spontaneous experiment in free-style music-making. It comprises music of very different moods stemming from a fast and furious and bad-tempered beginning that might be visualised as a train starting up: Blake’s train of thought? There follows melancholy, choleric, menacing (shades of Herrmann in Psycho mood) and merry music. Interestingly at one point, the first violin’s high harmonics accompany an innocent cradle song.
Blake’s expertly crafted and melodic String Trio opens with an Allegro energico. The movement begins sturdily then proceeds in good spirits with discussion and some good-humoured argument between the three players before the pace relaxes for them to indulge in a broad lyrical episode. The mood of the central Andante doloroso is exactly as its marking; the music poignant and a little Gaelic, and somehow transporting us back two or three centuries. The concluding Allegro capriccioso restores sunshine—a jolly dance.
Leda and the Swan derived from a commission for a ballet for The Queen’s Royal Silver Jubilee Celebrations. The ballet, The Court of Love, was premiered on 1 March 1977. From this ballet Blake produced music, for string quartet, for another TV ballet, Leda and the Swan. It was a somewhat erotically charged production which shocked some viewers. Blake’s music is arresting: poignant, mysterious, shadowy and has a sense of languor and sensuality.
The recital is rounded off with a beautiful and colourful arrangement of Blake’s well-known and well-loved ‘Walking in the Air’ theme from The Snowman.
Blake’s accessible music never fails to impress with more....
Review By David Vernier,ClassicsToday.com,July 2011
A few years ago I was accompanist for a performance of a work by Howard Blake—a song cycle for children’s voices called All God’s Creatures, settings of poems about animals (by Rossetti, Hardy, Carroll, William Blake, Tennyson, etc.) that honors and celebrates the noble “creatures” with which we share the planet. It’s a wonderful piece—dramatic, humorous, exciting, with well-wrought melodies and excellent accompaniments that make characterful, colorful musical representations of the poetry. And listening to the music on this CD of chamber instrumental works confirms that Blake is quite good at this kind of “scenic” and “thematic” musical conceptualization, ideal for the world of film and television scoring, which
Indeed, it’s difficult to listen to any of the works here, even the non-programmatic pieces, without some images coming to mind, or without thinking “movie-music”. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing; in fact, this entire disc makes for a very pleasant hour of listening—and after all, the suite A Month in the Country was music for the film of the same name, Leda and the Swan was for television, and “Walking in the Air” for radio. Yet, even in the Trio and the Spieltrieb for String Quartet, which do not have a programmatic connection, we still are treated not to cohesive, formally worked out and fully developed thematic ideas and harmonic relationships, but rather to a series of nonetheless appealing themes and bits of themes, a dance rhythm here, a lullaby there, a “ferocious” outburst here, a canon there, strung together very cleverly and effectively—not structurally or developmentally the most sophisticated music, but nevertheless technically demanding of first-rate players.
And this quartet, for whose 50th anniversary the Spieltrieb was written, is fine indeed, the group’s present membership not only upholding the ensemble’s long-established artistic excellence, but managing the numerous thematic/rhythmic/tempo shifts with technical ease and overall cohesiveness, the entire recital imbued with a spirit of shared enjoyment among the players. This program not only opens the door for listening to more of Blake’s music (his Violin Sonata, Piano Quartet, and Passion of Mary are also available from this same label), but certainly initiates an order for more from the Edinburgh Quartet.