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Arnold Whittall
Gramophone, October 2018

This selection of vocal and instrumental works centres on the telling contrast between the highly dramatic Mass (juxtaposing the liturgy with the Book of Revelation) and the secular world of Philip Larkin’s poetry (spoken rather than sung, but given musical backing and commentary evoking jazz legend Sidney Bechet). © 2018 Gramophone

R. James Tobin
Classical Net, December 2010

billed as a presentation of Dickinson’s “style modulation,” but also includes some lovely short pieces for flute. The long pieces, Mass of the Apocalypse” and Larkin’s Jazz, alternate spoken words with music, in a manner somewhat comparable—especially Larkin’s Jazz—to a recent work by another British composer, John McLeod, Haflid’s Pictures: Twelve Aphorisms for Piano, which I reviewed at

Mass of the Apocalypse (1984), commissioned for the 300th anniversary of St James Church, Piccadilly, is written for four part chorus, soprano and mezzo-soprano soloists, speaker, two percussionists and piano. Readings are from the King James Version of the Book of Revelation; the sung passages are from the 1980 Alternative Service Book, which uses contemporary language. The spoken words are loud and clear. The sung parts tend to yield to the percussion, which is strikingly appealing. The chorus initially enters quietly but gathers force. In the Sanctus and Benedictus there is a driving beat and the chorus is louder and faster than before. In the Agnus Dei the tune is adopted from Palestrina and sounds like a vocalise to my ears. The Gloria is naturally upbeat and the Ite Missa Est dismissal is lovely, with a soft steady beat on the marimba and tam-tam, soft vocalise singing and a warm sound., which dies away at the end.

Larkin’s Jazz was written in honor of the poet Philip Larkin, who in fact loved jazz. Four poems are read clearly (fortunately, as no texts are provided) by a speaker, preceded by a brief musical prelude and followed by a musical commentary. Sidney Bechet’s Blue Horizon and King Oliver’s Riverside Blues gave Dickinson musical material for the whole piece. Instrumentation is for flute, doubling piccolo and alto flute; Bb clarinet, doubling bass clarinet; Bb soprano saxophone (offstage), Bb trumpet, cello, piano and percussion, as well as speaker/baritone, some of whose commentary is sung. Tempos, moods and dynamics are varied. The result of all this is quite successful, to my mind.

The Five Forgeries for piano duet were intended as “party pieces,” Dickinson says. Each is dedicated to a particular person and each parodies aspects of the style of different composers, namely Poulenc, Hindemith, Stravinsky, Delius and Bartok. I find the firmness of the Hindemith, the gentleness of the Delius and the staccato of the Bartok more convincing than the rhythm of the Stravinsky or the Poulenc, which would be in his lightest vein. The Five Early Pieces for solo piano date from Dickinson’s final year at Cambridge. The third of these is especially appealing.

Philip Clark
Gramophone, June 2010

Peter Dickinson and Philip Larkin make a surprisingly plausible pairing.

Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb International, March 2010

Given the wide-ranging ambit of this disc, all of which pieces bar one are heard in premiere recordings (two are even world premiere performances) I allowed myself the luxury of getting down first to Larkin’s Jazz. This was written in 1989 and is heard in a first ever performance, live in the chapel at Keele University…Dickinson cleverly divides this project into threes; a Prelude, the reading of the poem, and finally a Commentary. There are four poems; Reasons for attendance, For Sidney Bechet, Love songs in age, and Reference back. In places it’s not an easy listen, but elsewhere Dickinson conjures up jazz echoes to commanding effect. There’s the surprisingly Goodman-sounding clarinet swing in the Prelude to For Sidney Bechet which then veers off into a more Buddy de Franco meets late Artie Shaw ethos – fretful off-beats and Krupa-esque drums. These are the genial, clever moments in which jazz is evoked but not straightforwardly…The Prelude to Love songs in age is the most harmonically complex, and the most extensive setting. Its commentary has an agitated cello solo and a melismatic vocal. The Prelude to Reference back adds a muted trumpet to the mix and in the Poem and Conclusion that follows we hear the strains of Riverside Blues emerge as if formulated from the preceding material. Dickinson also uses a strain from Bechet’s Blue Horizon in the piece, though less explicitly. The emergence of Riverside Blues is not unlike the emergence of Dowland’s tune in Britten’s Lachrymae but the effect is wholly different.

Mass of the Apocalypse again features some eclectic instrumentation; four part chorus, a soprano and mezzo-soprano soloists, speaker, two percussionists and piano. The texts are deliberately chosen, and derive from the King James (1611) version of the Bible for the spoken text, but the Alternative Service Book for the sung passages. It was commissioned for the 300th anniversary of St. James’s Piccadilly and premiered there in 1984. This recording was made in 1988. As with the Larkin piece there are determined percussive taps and there are also moments of staccato or even Nymanesque rhythmic patterns. The Agnus Dei sports strongly reharmonised Palestrina whilst the prominent marimba and wordless vocal of Ite Missa est adds another layer of colour.

Continuing the eclectic pathways that this disc offers we arrive at the Five Forgeries for piano duet. Dickinson describes these are ‘party-pieces’ and given that they emulate five composers with amusing precision he’s not far off the mark. The Poulenc forgery has a delicious tunefulness, whilst Hindemith is wickedly witty. The Stravinsky movement is adept, whilst the Delius is very much in the mould with those strong left hand chords to the fore. Bartók ends the sequence nicely. Five Early Pieces for solo piano were student examination works written between 1955 and 1956; in one case reconstructed by the composer many years later. They show hints of youthful neo-classicism in the second Invention, as well as a strong sense of the thoughtfully contemplative; markers of an early style in fact.

We also have the first recording in this flute and piano version of the Lullaby from The Unicorns – a lovely tune – as well as the Air for solo flute (1959) and Metamorphosis for solo flute. This last is impressive, with still, reflective lines alternating with loquacious interjections. The latter’s attempt to destabilise the serenity of the former is fruitless. Many years later, in 1971, Dickinson added a transformation sequence leading from the melody part to the tricky cadenza, which he took from his Translations written for David Munrow. It works well, and adds bite.

We certainly take a multi-faceted look at the many sides of Peter Dickinson in this disc, a rewarding and often challenging journey.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, December 2009

Born in England in 1934, Peter Dickinson has enjoyed a very varied career of composer, organist, pianist, writer and teacher, following an education that took him to both sides of the Atlantic. As a composer he has worked in a number of styles that, at times, has looked towards a wide audience appeal, yet has also been equally willing to plough a lone furrow as a modernist. Mass of the Apocalypse has an affinity with minimalism, having taken as its starting point the biblical view of the world in the Book of Revelation. Completed in 1984 and scored for speaker, soprano, mezzo, chorus, percussion and piano, its format following the Catholic Mass, Dickinson fashioning a score that would have relevance to our present troubled and uncertain times. Though modern in concept, it has the facility of making itself acceptable to a widely-based audience, and by now should have found a place in the repertoire. I am less sure of Larkin’s Jazz, an idea that grew out of the antipathy that the outspoken poet, Philip Larkin, had showed towards any attempt to set his words to music. Dickinson reflects that by using the minimum of music as the backdrop to his words and interspersed them with the type of jazz music Larkin would have enjoyed, he might well have approved. It is compellingly performed by the Nash Ensemble, but the ‘live’ recording has a problem with the narrator too far in the distance. I don’t think Dickinson would have thrived as a musical counterfeiter as I would have seldom guessed the identity of those composers he was imitating in the Five Forgeries for piano duet. We return to his student days for the two final works, and they do have an innocent charm. The recordings took place between 1988 and 2009 and are of mixed blessings, the Five Forgeries and Five Early Pieces, played by Dickinson and John Flinders, being the most recent.

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