Not Now Bernard and other stories is an irresistible album of music for all the family revelling in the magical colours of childhood memories, featuring world premiere recordings of pieces for narrator and chamber orchestra by British composers Judith Weir, Malcolm Arnold, John Ireland and Bernard Hughes, performed by the Orchestra of the Swan, conducted by Tom Hammond, and narrated by leading actor, TV star, comedian and broadcaster Alexander Armstrong.

The album is the brainchild of composer Bernard Hughes and conductor Tom Hammond. Bernard and Tom have worked together on a number of projects since 2009, including Tom commissioning Bernard’s pieces on the album for two of his orchestras. The aim of this album was to bring together a diverse selection of pieces in high-quality performances, plugging holes in the recorded legacies of great British composers alongside Bernard’s pieces. It was also their ambition to bring a sense of fun to the music, celebrating works that are intentionally enjoyable and funny. Bernard Hughes’s settings of classic children’s stories are the most recent pieces, using vividly imaginative, witty and tuneful music to bring to life three wonderful stories by David McKee and James Mayhew. Alexander Armstrong gives a hilarious and touching performance as narrator, his distinctive voice characterising each piece brilliantly to explore humour and human nature. The result is an engaging, lively and thoroughly entertaining collection of music and words which all the family can enjoy together.

The album is produced by Bernard Hughes himself and is released on 7 February by Orchid Classics, one of Britain’s leading classical labels.


The pieces and the composers

Malcolm Arnold – Toy Symphony. Arnold was one of the towering figures of British music in the twentieth century, whose prodigious output included nine symphonies and over 70 film scores. Composed in 1957 for a musicians’ fundraiser, the Toy Symphony pits a quintet of professional players against a battery panoply of novelty instruments, including a train guard’s whistle, a quail whistle and three parping toy trumpets, to hilarious but brilliantly musical effect. This is one of the few major Malcolm Arnold pieces in his ‘occasional’ style never previously commercially recorded, showing a combination of winning melodies with absurdity.

Judith Weir – Thread! Written in 1981 near the beginning of her stellar career, Thread! is a setting of texts sewn into the Bayeux Tapestry, and is a vivid re-telling of the Battle of Hastings, from the Norman perspective. This piece has also never been commercially recorded, although it is a personal favourite of the composer. An exciting and vibrant piece that deserves a wider audience.

John Ireland – Annabel Lee. A melodrama for piano and narrator in a new chamber arrangement by Bernard Hughes, setting a chilling, atmospheric poem by Edgar Allan Poe.

Bernard Hughes – Not Now, Bernard, Isabel’s Noisy Tummy and The Knight Who Took All Day. These pieces are based on children’s books by David McKee (Mr Benn, Elmer the Patchwork Elephant) and James Mayhew. Originally scored for narrator and symphony orchestra, this recording features the versions for chamber orchestra. In Not Now, Bernard a young boy, neglected by his parents, meets a monster in his garden, with shocking results. Isabel’s Noisy Tummy tells of a girl who is troubled – but eventually redeemed – by a misbehaving stomach. The Knight Who Took All Day tells of a knight confronting a dragon – with the timely help of a princess. All three are enchanting stories told with humour and melodic, friendly music

Not Now Bernard and other stories is released on 7 February by Orchid Classics, one of the UK’s leading classical labels. The album is available to pre-order now.


Orchid Classics website

 

Later this year, Divine Art will release a sumptuous collection of works for solo piano/chamber duos performed by pianist Elspeth Wyllie, with other fine soloists. ‘English Romantics’ will include works by Elgar, Bowen, Leighton, Ireland, Rubbra and Sackman.
Elspeth Wyllie performs throughout the UK as a soloist, chamber musician and accompanist. She appears most regularly with three trios – the Métier Ensemble (flute, cello, piano), the Hepplewhite Piano Trio (violin, cello, piano), and the Amalie Trio (mezzo, viola, piano). In the studio, she has played for recording sessions at Abbey Road, AIR and Dean Street Studios, and for Novello publications. Wyllie attended St Mary’s Music School, Edinburgh, read music at the University of Oxford (studying piano with Raymond Fischer), and trained professionally at the Royal Academy of Music, London (with teachers Andrew West and Colin Stone). She has enjoyed lessons and masterclasses with many wonderful musicians, including Malcolm Martineau, Julius Drake, Susan Tomes and Tasmin Little. She was supported during her studies by the Oldhurst Charitable Trust and has won various prizes, including the RAM Club Prize, the Vivien Langrish Prize, Evelyn German Prize and J E Reckitt Award. Alongside performing, Wyllie works with amateur and professional choirs, and as a teacher, coach and accompanist.


Wyllie will be joined by Claire Overbury, flute (guest with the RPO and the Hallé Orchestra and member of the Métier Ensemble); Hetti Price, cello (who performs at the Southbank Centre and has often been featured on BBC Radio3 ‘In Tune’, and is a member of the Hepplewhite Piano Trio); Alexa Beattie, viola (guest with the Munich Chamber Orchestra and Bavarian Philharmonic, has had ensemble appearances with Lisa Batiashvili and Kim Kashkashian and is a member of the Amalie Trio); Catherine Backhouse, mezzo-soprano (Britten-Pears Young Artist 2015, appearances with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Garsington Opera, and a member of the Amalie Trio).

‘English Romantics’ will be released in CD and digital formats on the Divine Art label (catalog no. DDA 25145).

Full CD programme

EDWARD ELGAR: Variations on an Original Theme, Op. 36 (Enigma Variations), in the composer’s own solo piano transcription

EDWIN YORK BOWEN: Sonata for Flute and Piano, Op. 120

KENNETH LEIGHTON: Elegy for Cello and Piano

JOHN IRELAND: Sonata fragment (premiere recording)

EDMUND RUBBRA: Two Sonnets by William Alabaster, Op. 87

NICHOLAS SACKMAN: Folio

(Source: Divine Art press release)

 Meet the Artist……Elspeth Wyllie

Pianist Ivan Ilic has already featured music by American minimalist composer Morton Feldman on his previous disc The Transcendentalist. His new disc (released 16 October) is devoted to a single work by Feldman, ‘For Bunita Marcus’, dedicated Feldman’s student who studied with him from 1975-1981. For seven years until Feldman’s death in 1987, he and Bunita Marcus were inseparable (though she refused his marriage proposal), composing side by side and sharing ideas.

The work typifies Feldman’s style: comprising small clusters and units of notes, mainly consisting of 3/8, 5/16 and 2/2 bars – tiny ideas which together form a vast and musical landscape, it is curiously absorbing music. What it lacks in texture, it makes up for in its meticulously placed sounds, and its intensity comes from its repetitive and reiterative qualities, with figures varied but not developed.

As Feldman himself said of this music “It can only work if you go along with the material and see how it is turning out.” There is an exploratory quality to Ilic’s playing, a sense of the music being wrought in the moment, spontaneous and unprepared. His touch is assured yet sensitive. Sounds chime, resonate and glow, and the work’s 22 sections unfold with a subtle and graceful expansiveness.

The disc comes with comprehensive notes to guide the listener through the work, but you, like me, may prefer to simply allow the sounds to drift over you.

‘For Bunita Marcus’ (1985) is released on the French label Paraty, distributed worldwide by Harmonia Mundi. The album is the final installment in Ivan’s Morton Feldman Trilogy, alongside the CD The Transcendentalist (2014) and the Art Book/CD/DVD Detours Which Have To Be Investigated (2014).  

Further information here

Meet the Artist……Ivan Ilic