Various Artists

Peter Dickinson: Mass of the Apocalypse; etc.

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British composer Peter Dickinson manages something very rare among composers of concert music who use popular idioms. He is neither setting popular music with orchestral instruments nor adapting its materials to concert-music idioms. Instead, he maintains the expressive content of the popular traditions he employs but incorporates it into larger structures in a variety of ways. Sample the Agnus Dei (track 4) from the impressively grim Mass of the Apocalypse, composed in 1984, where a bluesy vibraphone floats above a choir intoning the words in a hymn-like setting. The combination is as intuitive as it is original. The most common referent from the vernacular world is jazz, which is deployed most heavily in the "Commentary" movements of the 11-part Larkin's Jazz (1989). The work is an homage to British poet Philip Larkin, a passionate jazz fan, and it has a unique structure. There are four Larkin poems, each of which has its own independent prelude that sets the mood. The poem is read, with only a sparse instrumental accompaniment. Finally comes the "Commentary," a musical reflection of some aspect of the poem's content. In the last poem "Reference Back," the poem and the "Commentary" are combined into a single movement. Dickinson's compositions are polyphonic, not in the usual musical sense, but in the way literature writers use the word, to denote multiple discourses happening at once. The rest of the album, with a group of self-proclaimed "forgeries" written in the styles of other composers and some early Dickinson works, is considerably lighter than the music at the beginning, and the album, recorded at various places and times, has the feel of a grab bag. But even these smaller pieces are absorbing. Metamorphosis for solo flute, which focuses on the relationship between main body and cadenza, has the combination of direct appeal and fresh structural thinking that would characterize the later works. Quite strongly recommended, and the small chamber groupings would be ideal for student performers.

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