The second movement, ‘Wicken Fen’, is a compositional tour de force in that it is a palindrome—halfway through, the music is reversed, retracing its steps to the beginning. Wicken Fen is one of the few areas of fenland that has remained virtually unchanged for hundreds of years, being totally unaffected by the reclamation through drainage that took place from the seventeenth century onwards. It is an eerie place whose flatness and apparent featurelessness have a remote, gaunt majesty which is superbly captured in this atmospheric music, the organ weaving shimmering figures against the band’s soft chords that build up into a climax of almost frightening power.
The third movement, ‘Oliver Cromwell’, portrays a fenland figure who combined energetic and extrovert resolution with dour and sombre devotion to a grim, tenacious religious faith; and the vigorous, tuneful finale, a march named after the City of Ely, captures the spirit of a vigorous musical tradition established by Elgar and Walton—tuneful, self-confident and full of ceremonial colour. Thus, in the composer’s words, it ‘pays homage to the City, the Band, and a great musical heritage’.
The Fenlands was first performed by the composer and The Cambridge Co-operative Band in Ely Cathedral on 10 October 1981.
from notes by Hyperion Records Ltd © 1983