Roy Heaton Smith: Opening The Door

review heaton smith x1 cong

For the same reason we like new and interesting bands – even if flawed – we like the more fringe classical albums like this. It’s like those footy fans who only see non-league because they like the fact that it is people playing for playing’s sake.

Heaton Smith is no longer around to enjoy its release, having died in 2014. This CD looks as if it’s part-financed by family, friends and fans.

Heaton Smith was born in Middleton, Manchester in 1928 and died there in 2014. He composed from his youth, and studied piano with Noel Walton, Sir William’s brother, and composition with Richard Hall. In 1950 he won a scholarship to attend the Royal Manchester College of Music (now the RNCM). He won the Royal Philharmonic Society Prize for his Phantasy. He worked as head of music at the Queen Elizabeth High School in his home town, retired in 1984 and died 20 years later.

The music, we think, falls into three categories: music he wrote for his own entertainment, which is often playful and amusing; more serious work that is a little stark but still enjoyable and then some “colder” pieces that we guess are modern but which we found harder to digest. There is nothing that is really difficult, though. In some places it heads into Vaughan Williams territory, with a nice pastoral feel. In other places it’s colder, more Shostakovich.

You can forgive everything, though, for the opening section, which starts off the collection playfully, if not joyfully, with Three Bagatelles, Op46 for recorder, viola and clarinet, written for his own amusement and never performed. The music is mostly light-hearted, though it can be more sombre. CD2 opens in similar playful mood, though less so, though very busy in places. The recorder brings real life to the music, particularly on CD1.

A Suite of Variations, Op 37 for viola and piano was written for a competition and opens in rather lovely fashion with haunting violon and delicate piano.

The prize-wining Pastoral is also on CD1, for voice, recorder and violin, and it opens with atmospheric voice and recorder the violin adding edge.

The most difficult work is his A Vision of the Future, a work reflecting his belief in the futility of war. It’s doubtless meant to be disturbing, the vocals angry and the piano angry, and possibly echoing the angry buzzing of bullets in the air.

It’s an interesting and meaty CD. Fans of 20th century music will be doubtless be attracted but anyone with an interest in modern British composers will find much to like, and enjoy the challenge of the harder sections.

Players include Clare Wilkinson (mezzo soprano); Linda Merrick (clarinet); John Turner (recorder); Harvey Davies and Ewa Tytman (piano), and the Solem String Quartet — it would be a surprise it at least one had not played locally.

Out now on Divine Art, DDA21228.

About jerobear

Weekly newspaper editor in Cheshire, England. I blog my editorials and the CDs I write about. I play drums, drink coffee, play music, meditate. I hate filling in forms.

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