About this Recording
8.223842 - ORR: Piano Trios Nos. 1-3

Buxton Orr (b

Buxton Orr (b. 1924)

Piano Trios Nos. 1 - 3


The Glasgow-born composer Buxton Orr gave up a career in medicine in the early 1950s to study composition with Benjamin Frankel and conducting with Aylmer Buesst. His early professional work was in films (Karloff horrors, suddenly Last Summer) and in the theatre (including the original production of Flowering Cherry). Later his compositions included songs, chamber music, works for brass and wind band, orchestral music and a one-act opera The Wager staged by the New Opera Company at Sadler's wells in 1961 and subsequently broadcast. In 1965 he joined the staff of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and in 1975founded the Guildhall New Music Ensemble. Between 1970 and 1980 he was conductor of the London Jazz Composers' Orchestra, touring England and Europe and taking part in the 1972 Ber1in Jazz Festival.


Buxton Orr has received commissions from Glasgow University, the Saltire society, the Park Lane Group, the BBC (1979 Bath Festival), Radio Scotland, the City of London Festival and Merseyside Arts. His interest in music-theatre led to his writing Unicorn, The Last Circus and Ring in the New, the latter during his period as Composer-in-Residence and Associate Director of the Music Theatre Studio Ensemble at the Banff Centre for Fine Arts in Canada, and for which he and Michael Bawtree were awarded the Seagrams Prize of the American National Music Theatre Network in 1988. In 1990 he gave up regu1ar teaching to devote more time to composition and now lives in the Wye Valley. His varied compositions range from solo piano works and chamber music to a substantial operatic output.


Buxton Orr's Trios, written between 1982 and 1990, represent the working through of a consistent method only misleadingly describable as employing twelve-note technique. The threads of melody and harmony are derived from a pattern of intervals characteristic of each work, giving it an internal unity. Use is made of mirror forms and transpositions of the basic pattern but, unlike the style associated with so-called 'atonalism', the harmonic and tonal consequences are embraced rather than rejected.


The first Trio was commissioned by the Bureau Trio and dedicated to Hans Keller 'in admiration and friendship' .The second was dedicated to the Banff Centre of Fine Arts in Canada where the composer met members of the short-lived Kandinsky Trio who played the work in Canada and Europe. The third was written for the York Trio, who played the first two so well for Radio 3 in London.


In Trio No.1 a throbbing pedal note on the cello persists under the opening gestures on piano with its violin obligato, only to emerge finally as the first note of an unaccompanied melody on which the whole work is to be based. The Trio then launches into the main movement in which dialogue between the instruments is punctuated by various allusions to the opening repetitive throb. Pausing momentarily on a high violin harmonic, the muted cello takes off in a rapid figuration taken up by the others. The piano eventually re-establishes the repetitive pedal over which the strings unwind the tension to end the movement. The energetic scherzo that follows has as its main idea a series of chords on the strings answered by a chattering piano. The trio consists of a pattern of string harmonics against which the piano intones a rhythmic melody. The scherzo returns and ends with chattering strings punctuated by sharp piano chords. The last, slow movement is dominated by a long expressive solo on the cello, starting high and descending finally to the depths. At this point the violin joins in an unaccompanied duo. When the piano enters in a cadenza- like outburst, all three culminate in a strong echo of the opening repetitive throb with which the work began and the music relaxes to its end.


At the start of Trio No.2 all three instruments announce the melodic pattern on which the whole work is to be based, struggling to its apex as the piano falls to the chords that accompany the melody on strings as it makes its retrograde descent. The ensuing movement explores the shapes implicit in this melody. The slow movement exploits the relatively stable idea of a melody, its bass and accompaniment, though the logic is rotation of the row rather than conventional 'functional' harmonic progression. The restless movement that follows opens with pizzicato strings and bold chords on the piano. The eventual contrast is a tranquil melody on the piano constantly interrupted by pizzicato reminiscences. After the return of the opening, the strings finally announce aversion of this melody and, in pizzicato, have the last word. A brief duet between the two strings is joined by the piano which launches them all into the energetic final movement. Towards its end the theme, as it appeared in the first movement, is gradually exposed and slowly unwinds until things appear to come to a stop. At which the essence of the work is condensed into a short, bold conclusion.


Reflecting thirds between the paired strings and the piano give a characteristic richness to the opening of Trio No.3, the most extensive. Flexibility of metre characterises the progress of this movement as the strings offer a contrasting melody to be discussed. As the opening material returns, re-arranged, the movement relaxes to its close. A linear melodic statement of the row boldly introduces the next, fast movement. The idea of ref1ected shapes dominates the contrasting theme, first stated on the piano. A return of both ideas, eventually brought into close proximity, finally disappear into nothing. The tracing of a chord in pizzicato, softly sustained by the piano, enables the strings to appear to improvise over a series of harmonies, sometimes also supplied only by the piano. Various versions of this basic idea culminate in a cadenza-like passage on the piano leading to a return of the opening idea in which the strings supply harmonic support for each other. A gradual quickening of pizzicato strings, finally joined by the piano, lead into the rhythmic complexity of the final movement. After a more regular melody provides its contrast, the irregular melody returns in the low register of the piano erupting into a passage reminiscent of jazz 'stride' piano style. The strings join in appropriately until the music is able to make reference to ideas in the first movement without losing the momentum with which it hurtles to its close. 

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