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Paul Reade (1943-1997)

A Celebration

English Chamber Orchestra, Robin O'Neill (conductor) Detailed performer information
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Label: Signum Classics
Recording details: June 2022
All Saints' Church, East Finchley, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Anna Barry
Engineered by Mike Cox & Sophie Watson
Release date: March 2023
Total duration: 73 minutes 46 seconds

Paul Reade died 25 years ago this summer. Remembered primarily for his delightful signature tunes for television (the Antiques Roadshow theme being just one), he also wrote a huge variety of equally wonderful but less well-known pieces, full of melodic invention, wit and fabulous energy, and it is a range of these that can be heard, predominantly in first recordings, on this new album put together by his friends.

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I am delighted to have been asked to write this introduction because I was directly or indirectly involved in most of the works performed on this album. It brings back great memories of the relationship between Paul and my old orchestra, the Manchester Camerata.

Paul was born in Liverpool in 1943. His father was a very keen pianist and Paul developed a passion for music from a very early age. He became a prolific composer whose music brought enjoyment to many people who probably didn’t know his name. His catchy tunes written for television such as Play School, Antiques Road Show, Crystal Tipps and Alistair are well known, but less familiar are the works on this beautifully compiled album.

The flute concerto was commissioned by the Manchester Camerata in 1985. It was first performed to critical acclaim by flautist Wissam Boustany and the Goldberg Ensemble (an offshoot of the Manchester Camerata) at the Royal Northern College of Music and at the Wigmore Hall in London. The concerto is written for flute and strings and, as a cellist, I was very impressed with Paul’s understanding of his writing for strings. Composer pianists don’t always understand the problems of string writing with sometimes awkward results, but Paul, a master of orchestration, wrote beautiful fluid string parts. The flute concerto brought Paul together with flautist Philippa Davies. Philippa performed the concerto in 1988 with the London Mozart Players. Paul worked with her closely for the performance and they subsequently married. Our old friend from the Daily Telegraph, Michael Kennedy, wrote of the concerto that it ‘… gave consistently highly musical pleasure from start to finish, is attractive and melodic and most expertly and beautifully written for the soloist, Philippa Davies.’

Between 1981-93, the orchestra and friends spent a week each June in Rasiguères, a tiny village in the Roussillon area of the South of France, very close to the Pyrenees. This festival was organised by the celebrated pianist Moura Lympany. Paul joined us several times and so became an unofficial composer in residence. He not only wrote music for the orchestra but got to know the musicians and friends of the orchestra. Concerts were held in the Cave where the wine was produced. This building was long and high and had a unique atmosphere influenced by the wine fumes. The acoustic was amazing, by some sort of magic an orchestra of 20 musicians sounded like a full symphony orchestra.

In 1984 the soprano Elizabeth Harwood performed at the Rasiguères Festival. Paul was delighted to meet her and was very keen to write something for her. I suggested to him that he set some of Canteloube’s Roussillon poems to music. Chants du Roussillon was the result, and the first performance was in the Rasiguères Cave in 1988. It was a balmy June evening and Paul’s colourful orchestration captured the atmosphere perfectly. Combined with Elizabeth Harwood’s exquisite voice, the response from the audience was very emotional and many tears were shed. Paul had also arranged The song of the birds for orchestra and soprano and this was the perfect encore. This piece had been made famous by the celebrated Catalan cellist Pablo Casals who after the Spanish Civil War had exiled himself in Prades, not far from Rasiguères. Many of the locals were children of Spanish refugees from the civil war so there was a mix of emotions that evening. Memorable. We wanted to perform the Chants du Roussillon with Elizabeth Harwood in Manchester, but she became ill and died before we could arrange a concert. However, we did perform the piece with the Irish soprano Virginia Kerr in Manchester at the Royal Northern College of Music, another memorable evening.

I was only indirectly involved with the wind sextet, Serenata. As mentioned, Friends of the Manchester Camerata used to travel to Rasiguères each year. Two of these friends, John and Connie fell in love there and planned to get married. As a wedding present, John commissioned Paul to write a piece for wind sextet and this was first performed outside the Mairie in Rasiguères by the wind players of the Camerata. A joyful occasion attended by Mancunians and villagers with much local rosé consumed.

Sadly, the bassoon concerto was not completed, but the first movement was finished and Paul even played it through on the piano shortly before he died. It was written for Laurence Perkins, principal bassoon of the Manchester Camerata, and it is thrilling to hear Laurence not only in this concerto but also in the Serenata which he premiered nearly 40 years ago.

I had the pleasure of working with Paul many times during the 1980s and was devastated when I heard of his death in 1997. He became a great friend of the family and we all enjoyed his company. For such a talented man he was very gentle and unassuming.

The Manchester Camerata commissioned works by several composers including John McCabe, a totally different composer to Paul, more akin to The Manchester School. I was very interested to read his obituary for Paul. In spite of his totally different approach to music, he recognised that Paul was a very important contemporary composer. I would like to quote from the last sentence of the obituary:

His music, diatonic and tonal in style, reflected his concern with accessibility and the expressive needs to the listener, and his involvement in all aspects of the profession testified to his generous personality—he was a musician of the community, not the ivory tower.

Suite from The Victorian Kitchen Garden
The Victorian Kitchen Garden was a much-loved BBC television series about the recreation of a Victorian walled garden at Chilton Lodge in Berkshire (1987). Paul’s incidental music, played by clarinettist Emma Johnson, won the 1991 Ivor Novello Award for best TV theme music.

In the same year he arranged some of the music into a five-part suite for clarinet and piano (or harp), and later also for clarinet, harp and strings. The version here recorded is an adaptation of the latter by Jan Willem Nelleke.

There are five short movements which conjure up the garden at different times of the year. The 'Prelude' opens like a gentle waking up in the morning, followed by wonderfully flowing melodies in pastoral character. In 'Spring' Paul indicated that ‘the player is to mimic the chattering and singing of a bird’. The central movement, 'Mists', is ‘to be played with a lingering autumnal feeling’ and it paints the mood beautifully. 'Exotica' has a distinctive oriental flavour with its use of pentatonics. After these contrasting moods, 'Summer' leads us back to the lyricism of the opening movement.

Chants du Roussillon & El cant dels ocells
Every year Moura Lympany held a festival in the Pyrenean village of Rasiguères, close to Perpignan, in the Roussillon area where a French Catalan dialect is spoken. The area borders on Spain and is only 60km from Prades, where Pablo Casals founded his famous festival.

It is from the folk song melodies collected by the French composer Joseph Canteloube (1879-1957) that Paul chose to set these five chansons from Roussillon for voice and orchestra. He later added El cant dels ocells (The song of the birds) which was made famous by Casals and the six songs have often been performed together. Canteloube, of course, is famous for his own Chants d’Auvergne, orchestral settings of songs from his own native region of France. A French equivalent of Vaughan Williams, he made a scholarly collection of folk songs over a period of 60 years from every département of France which was published shortly before his death in 1957.

Paul first met Elizabeth Harwood at the Rasiguères Festival in 1984. She had a most distinctive and beautiful voice. In recognition of her lively personality and commitment to Rasiguères, John Whibley (who organised the Festival and was Director of the Manchester Camerata) suggested that Paul set these songs for her—and as a present to the Festival. She sang them once, in 1988 in Rasiguères with the Manchester Camerata conducted by Anthony Hose. It is a great joy that they are now recorded by Decca artist Pumeza Matshikiza.

The songs are a celebration of the area. Paul said: 'I have tried to reflect the moods and colours that I myself have experienced there: the opening, with its echoing fanfares which represent the divided Catalonia calling across the Pyrenees; the heat of the day; the magic of a moonlit night; the fragrances, the flowers, and finally, the song about the Nightingale which flies South to North, symbolising the divided land.'

Evidently after he had set this song he discovered that the words were a bowdlerised version. He was told by a villager that Franco forbade the singing of the original and they are not printed in Canteloube’s collection. Paul summarised the poems as follows:

I. Are vé lo mes de maig (May): Trumpets herald the spring, calling across the Pyrenees from both sides of Catalonia. The cuckoo sings. But my heart grieves. Kisses alone will loosen the chains of love.
II. De matinet me vaig llevar (The nightingale’s advice): A feature of Rasiguères is the song of the nightingale echoing amongst the rocks by the river. “Which young man shall I choose, Nightingale?” asks the young girl; “The one who will be true to you.” The nightingale, like the owl, is a wise bird.
III. Tot anit som caminat (A frog in the moonlight): Here’s a tall story. Anything can happen on a moonlit night; one may come across a frog playing the flute, or steal golden muscat grapes from the vineyard of Sagarra.
IV. El pare m’ha casada (The defiant bride): “My father has chosen a fool for me to marry!” The young bride is determined to look a mess for her wedding, but in the end is summoned sternly by the church bell.
V. Rossinyol, que vas en França (The nightingale): This girl has been married off to a shepherd and is angry with her father. She asks the nightingale what she should do. She wants the shepherd, but not the sheep!
El cant dels ocells (The song of the birds): This is a Christmas song which was made famous by Pablo Casals at the nearby Prades Festival.

It was in the late 1980s that Paul expressed an interest in writing a bassoon concerto for Laurence Perkins whilst they were working at the Rasiguères Festival. He had always loved Laurence’s warm and mellow sound. The setting for this event amongst the beautiful vineyards in the foothills of the Pyrenees was obviously still working its magic on Paul’s vivid and creative imagination.

During the 1990s Paul was busily writing successful ballets, but when he became ill in 1996, he decided to focus on writing the concerto. Having completed the first movement in piano score, he and Laurence played it through together in hospital. There are also some sketches for two other movements but sadly they remained unfinished at his death in 1997. The first movement stands alone and was orchestrated by Tim Gibson.

Laurence says: “I know from that hospital session that Paul would be very happy with this as a single-movement work. The distinct contrasting sections, depicting the echoes through the hills, the bustle of a lively festival and the peaceful tranquillity of a still summer’s night all make for a wonderfully colourful evocation of Catalonia.”

The first public performance took place on 11th February 1998, with the English Chamber Orchestra conducted by Peter Broadbent at St John’s Smith Square, London. It was performed again in October 2022 with the Greenwich Chamber Orchestra conducted by David Cutts.

The work is scored for the unusual combination of 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons and 2 horns. It was commissioned by John Jeffries as a wedding gift for his wife Connie, to be performed by the Camerata Wind Soloists at the Rasiguères Festival on 26th June 1987. As is befitting a serenade, the work was played in the evening and outdoors, in the village square where you could often hear the sounds echoing back from the surrounding hills and vineyards.

As well as being an original wedding present, the alternating moods of romantic lyricism and festive joy in the composition reflect the pastoral and festive spirit of this particular festival of wine and music!

The first movement opens gently with muted horns, setting up a distant, hazy atmosphere evocative of the Pyrennean hills. There is also a surprising quote from Mozart’s Don Giovanni; the first two lines of the aria 'Là ci darem la mano, Là mi dirai di sì' (“There you will give me your hand, There you will say ‘yes’ to me”), a reference to John and Connie’s wedding. The short second movement is an intermezzo which leads into the very lively finale.

Concerto for flute and string orchestra
The flute concerto was originally commissioned by the Goldberg Ensemble and first performed in 1985 with Wissam Boustany as soloist. Paul himself wrote that the concerto derived much from French musical style and was cast simply and conventionally in three movements. The first movement, in sonata form, is an aubade, or awakening, and is about morning and morning light. The second, a nocturne, suggests both the beauty of night and absence. The third movement is a dance.

The following quote by Paul tells a lot about how he perceived the concerto: 'Writing for the flute may be like painting in water colours. The charm is in capturing its special tonal qualities of light and shade, like the subtle colouring of swift-changing skies and clouds. It seems to be the least serious of all the woodwind instruments—its character is capricious and elusive, but once captured, it has surprising strength and sweetness.'

Philippa Davies first performed the concerto in 1988 with the London Mozart Players at St John’s Smith Square conducted by Peter Broadbent. She has championed the piece and has given many performances in the UK and in South America.

In 2022 she played the work to commemorate 25 years from Paul’s death with The 23 String Orchestra conducted by David Cutts at the Cadogan Hall in London.

John Whibley © 2023

I first met Paul Reade in 1988 when I performed his beguiling Flute Concerto. I was struck by the wonderful lyrical quality of his music and what a gentle, modest man he was. When he died in 1997 we had been together for only 9 years but it was a full, rich time for both of us, personally and professionally. I performed the Flute Concerto many times, here in the UK and abroad; both audience and players loving the colourful sound world and fresh, joyful energy of Paul’s music. Just before he died in 1997 he was writing a bassoon concerto for Laurence Perkins called Catalonia.

The plan percolated between myself, Laurence and Anna Barry (Paul’s cousin and recording producer) to record these concertos, as well as the lovely Chants du Roussillon which were written for Elizabeth Harwood. Finally in June 2022, 25 years after his death, we recorded these pieces with soprano Pumeza Matshikiza and the English Chamber Orchestra conducted by Robin O’Neill. We also included a new adaptation of The Victorian Kitchen Garden Suite for flute, harp and strings as well as his wind sextet Serenata with my group London Winds. These are premiere recordings (except for the Chants du Roussillon) and show Paul’s music at its best: tender, poignant, humorous and uplifting, full of wonderful melodic and dramatic invention.

I am most grateful to all the wonderful artists who have made this recording possible and to all those who have generously supported this venture as a tribute to Paul and his music. Many thanks.

Philippa Davies © 2023

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