Concert Review: David Earl, Friends of Orchestral Music Soiree

Cape Town, Tuesday 14 October 2014

Review by Andy Wilding

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David Earl was born in Stellenbosch in 1951, and studied composition at the Trinity College of Music, London. Both works in this program were written this year, 2014, in fact the Quintet was performed for the first time last Tuesday. Earl’s composing style can be described as post-romantic in that his melodies are tonal in a romantic fashion, whereas the harmony and structure is more free and expressive than the conservative romantic style.

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Sonata for Viola and Piano

Emile de Roubaix – viola, David Earl – piano

1 Theme and accompaniment is shared between piano and viola, making this a sonata for two instruments, as opposed to the solo instrument carrying the main thematic material, and the piano playing a supporting role. The sonata opens with Cubist shards of melody, that merge into the second subject – a lyrical dialogue between viola and piano, that alternates between hard and then soft, melodic and then rhythmic. This conversation of romantic soaring melodies, highlights the deep smooth tones of the viola. De Roubaix excelled in a lullaby of double-stops towards the end of the movement, grounded by Earl, an accomplished pianist, with a heartbeat of patient tonic chords, allowing the viola to wonder a little before finishing in a lovely blur.

2 The second movement is post-romantic at its most recognisable: a pastoral piano theme, modulating through rich harmonies, not unlike like the Russian schools. The middle section is an exciting scherzo in which de Roubaix again showed off his remarkable double stopping technique, playing the theme as well as a counterpoint. The form of the movement is “A-B-A”, and returns to the initial pastoral melody.

3 The slow movement has the reminiscence of art nouveau, remembering and referencing the great romantic period, using modern paradigms of blurred harmonies and sustained passages of pedal notes. I enjoyed the surprise viola cadenza, and the return to the pastoral feeling of the 2nd movement, that leads to a Khachaturian-like, peaceful close.

4 The last movement is a journey of melodies, opening with a song in 3/4, introduced by the piano, to which the viola sings like a mezzo. In a similar way to the first movement, a dialogue of romantic themes ensues, ending in a recapitulation.
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David Earl and Emile de Roubaix FOM Soiree

David Earl and Emile de Roubaix FOM Soiree

Quintet for Cor Anglais and Strings

Carin Bam – cor anglais, Quentin Creda – violin, David Bester – violin, Karin Gaertner – viola, Peter Martens – cello

1 From the opening, I was gripped by rich mysterious harmonies, moments of clarity, and searching ascending runs. Earl brilliantly demonstrates a technique that uses focus to create excitement, where chord progressions are a movement from dissonant semitones into focussed harmonic clarity, and then back into dissonant blur. The effect is like catching glimpses of distant mountains through the trees from a moving train. His thematic development is excellent, and I thoroughly enjoyed his eclecticism – he is not even afraid to include a reference to a Piazzollan tango!

2 The second movement has a traditionally romantic feel. Earl’s truly beautiful and original melody writing could be described as the existential searching of the great romantic composers. Like the Sonata, the Quintet shares thematic material. All five instrumentalists were excellent, entries were tight, and dynamics were congruent and meaningful.

3 The introduction, a Renaissance dance in pizzicato, quickly becomes a romantic fantasy with extended harmonies that support the cor anglais’ wonderful, Saint-Saensian, arabesque style. The instrument naturally lends itself to an Arabian sound, and in this work Earl has provided plenty of opportunities for a cor anglais player to shine. Carin Bam was mesmerizing. An exciting development section follows, combining previous thematic material, ending on a stark, bold unison 5th. The renaissance pizzicato dance then returns, and completes the Quintet.

David Earl Quintet for Cor Anglais and Strings

David Earl Quintet for Cor Anglais and Strings

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