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Oliver Davis (b1972)


Beth & Flo, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Paul Bateman (conductor) Detailed performer information
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Label: Signum Classics
Recording details: Various dates
Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk, United Kingdom
Produced by Oliver Davis
Engineered by Various engineers
Release date: October 2023
Total duration: 51 minutes 51 seconds

Cover artwork: Cover image by Rebecca Manley

This is Oliver Davis’ first album dedicated to the piano, and specifically two pianists, Dutch piano duo Beth & Flo: a mesmerising soundscape for piano and strings and the culmination of two years' work.

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Blue is inspired by water in its various forms. I chose to write the album for Beth & Flo after discovering their ability to play brilliantly together in a vast array of styles.

One of the earliest sketches I wrote for the album was the first movement of Sea Dances. I was inspired after seeing a short film online about the puffer fish and started to compose to the film, scoring the music to match the movements of the small fish. At the other end of the spectrum in terms of size is the blue whale, whose elegant motion I aimed to evoke in 'Graceful giants'.

In the first movement of the Coral Suite I wanted to depict a strange and magical underwater paradise. The second movement is more reflective, conjuring up the sheer beauty of the reef. In the final quirky movement, clarinet lines evoke fish darting through tiny spaces in the coral.

The water garden was inspired by the Biotop Water Garden in the Nasu Mountains, Japan. To depict these beautiful gardens, designed by Junya Ishigami, I used a combination of piano and strings with occasional harp glissandi to give the piece a slightly oriental feel.

The Water Variations comprises three variations of a theme, however, we only hear the theme after we’ve heard these variations. The variations hint at different aspects of the theme; Variation 1 uses voices to quote parts of it, Variation 2 uses the piano figure from the opening of the theme, but in the minor key, and Variation 3, in stark contrast stylistically, reveals the theme in the violins. Finally we hear the theme itself. The hints and quotes in the preceding variations give the theme a sense of familiarity.

The Tango is an anomaly in that it has nothing to do with water. Rather, it was the result of confusion over constantly changing travel restrictions during the pandemic. I had arranged to meet Beth & Flo in a rehearsal studio in The Hague to go through the repertoire prior to recording. However, I arrived at check-in only to be told I couldn’t board the plane because I hadn’t brought the necessary vaccination paperwork! In a very frustrated mood I drove straight to my studio where I channelled my anger into this fiery piano duet!

The Dream Songs started as a collection of short sketches for four hands but I found that I kept singing along to them, so I asked Simon Littlefield to accept the tricky challenge of writing lyrics to fit the melodies of the four movements. The resulting song cycle takes us on a voyage from mountain stream to river, out to sea and back again. I began to wonder, even before recording sopranos Grace Davidson and Julia Doyle and treble Joshua Davidson, whether the piano part would, in places, be over-powered by the vocal writing. To address this I added strings and in the case of the last song, a choir too.

I have always been in awe of how fish form shoals and swim so gracefully in perfect synchronicity. In the three movements of Shoals I wanted to portray the way in which these shoals change shape or direction. They seem to me like under water murmurations.

The musical ideas for the title track Blue came to me when I was by the Hofvijver in The Hague with Beth and Flo. I was mesmerized by the reflections in the water and the result was this dreamy, bluesy piece.

Oliver Davis © 2023

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