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Robert Matthew-Walker
International Record Review, January 2012

Country Matters is a delightful work…The result is fascinating and deeply felt score…I found this a CD to which I return often soon after receiving it, so attracted had I been to this splendid music… © 2012 International Record Review

Robert R. Reilly
Catholic News Agency, October 2011

The First Quartet is named The Bustard, after the largest flying bird in the world. It might be too cute to say that this music takes flight, but it does. You do not need to think of a bird to go soaring with it. Corp has written some gorgeous melodies that cannot fail to uplift you. The second movement is a lovely evocation of Salisbury Plain and contains some absolutely enchanting night music. The Second Quartet is a sister to the first and is charged with joy and exuberance from the birth of a baby boy. The Maggini Quartet plays with its usual assurance and expressivity. I defy anyone not to be inspirited by these totally traditional, tonally oriented quartets.

Jeremy Marchant
Fanfare, September 2011

Back in the days when I frequented the leafy suburbs of Hampstead, Ronald Corp was mostly known for his excellent work as a conductor of choruses, both adult and children’s, in that part of North London. He has written a considerable amount of vocal music, both soloistic and choral. It is, therefore, interesting to hear his first two string quartets (he has since written a third). Indeed, the success of the First Quartet, at its premiere by the Maggini Quartet in 2008, seems to have opened a door to a new sphere of instrumental composition for the composer. The first thing that struck me, listening to the CD, was Corp’s complete assurance in the medium and an impressive degree of homogeneity in each quartet—indeed, between the two quartets, since Corp describes the latter as a “sister work” to the first: “This was intentional, there seemed so much more to say.”

The First Quartet is subtitled “The Bustard,” and the interesting liner notes by the composer go into some detail about the backstory. Suffice it to say here that the quartet is inspired by the bustard, apparently the largest flying bird in the world, which was “farmed and eaten out of existence” in Victorian time and which is now the subject of a concerted campaign to reintroduce the species onto Salisbury Plain. But this is no post-Messiaen applicant to the Catalogue d’oiseaux. Stylistically, like the second quartet, it betrays almost nothing of the passing of the last hundred years, and this is a disappointment. Of course, I would not want any composer to write in an idiom that was untrue for him or her. It’s just that, while writing for large amateur choirs it is as well to produce something for which the singers will be grateful, it’s possible to be a little more daring with a professional string quartet. As the witches advised Macbeth in act IV of Shakespeare’s play, “Be bloody, bold, and resolute!” That said, both quartets are strong compositions and very attractive, not least because Corp is able to write good, energetic fast music, such as the Scherzo vivo of the first quartet.

Back to the bustard: Corp avoids overtly describing the bird in music, though the rather halting opening is intended to represent it taking off (all 40 pounds of it) and the rest of the first movement and the third represent the bird in flight. The second is an evocation of Salisbury Plain at night (this is the location of the prehistoric Stonehenge), and the final movement nods toward a galliard, representing the bird on the ground, before resuming the vigorous allegro music of the first movement. The thematic interrelationship of all the movements gives the work a satisfying integrity.

The Second Quartet, a little longer at nearly half an hour, also relies on the sharing of themes between movements to give the work strength and, as before, Corp’s imagination does not let this be perceived as mere repetition, but rather an organic growth. The quartet was written in response to the birth of a baby, and the fast movements are suffused with a joyful exuberance that is compelling. One is sometimes reminded of Tippett’s earlier quartets though, unfortunately, without the intensity and imagination of that earlier composer’s works.

It would be nice to report that the much earlier Country Matters (1972), a song cycle for baritone and string trio, displays the results of a reckless youth. But, stylistically, there is not much to choose between it and the quartets. True, Corp does opt to declaim some of the poems (unconvincing, I felt), but that is the only conceivable nod to modernity. The poems are by a schoolmate of Corp’s (both are 60 this year), Steve Mainwaring. Rather wordy, which presumably accounts for the composer’s decision to run through the words in speech in some of the numbers (there isn’t a chance of any Sprechgesang here). “Come into the Garden” amusingly pits Mainwaring’s satirical text against a casual reworking of Balfe’s notorious arrangement of Tennyson’s poem Come into the Garden, Maud. Corp describes the seven poems he set as “variously poignant and notoriously outrageous,” and he duly delivers a studiedly English interpretation of that. But they are well-written! This isn’t damning with faint praise; I just wish Ron had gone out on a limb sometimes.

The members of the Maggini Quartet have the music under their fingers, and the performances are compelling. Mark Wilde has a fine tenor voice which I want to hear more of. It’s to his disadvantage that the first song is declaimed, but he finds a good balance between the arch speech that one often encounters in this situation and the sung rendition of most of the numbers, and is uncompromising in the downbeat endings of the second song and also the last. The recording is a little in your face, robbing the performances of some of the subtlety that I am sure they have. But Naxos should be congratulated for its commitment to composers off the beaten track.

Stephen Estep
American Record Guide, July 2011

There’s no new ground broken in Corp’s pieces, no stunning new revelations, just a relaxed sense of appreciation for the world around him, and we need more music like this…Country Matters sets seven poems by Corp’s childhood friend…simple, full of odd humor and a few wonderfully bad puns.

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.

MusicWeb International, April 2011

Ronald Corp’s name is probably more familiar as conductor rather than composer, although a fair amount of his choral music, which he often writes for children’s choirs, has appeared on CD…

This release by Naxos features Corp as composer of possibly the world’s first eco-string quartet! Subtitled ‘The Bustard’, the First Quartet is dedicated to the Great Bustard Group, a project formed in 1998 to aid the reintroduction into the UK of the great bustard.

In his liner-notes, Corp says that his original notion was to write a “theme for bustards everywhere”, but the idea took off, as indeed does the bustard in the quartet’s first movement. In the end, each section became loosely a musical depiction of the bird or its habitat—from the evocation of Salisbury Plain in the second movement to the galliard-like gait of the bird in the finale.

The result is not especially profound, but the music is immediately attractive in its unmistakably English grandeur, particularly the twilit open countryside of the second movement. The great bustard is not the most elegant bird in the air—it is probably the heaviest flighted bird in the world—not the largest, as Corp states in his notes—the condor and great albatross both have much bigger wingspans. There is a fitting element of light comedy to the music of the Scherzo third movement, which, like the first, portrays the bird in flight. The first movement itself certainly has the apposite soaring theme, but there is also a sense in the music that the bustard is having to work hard to keep its great weight airborne. The last movement depicts the mannered gait of the bird with a three-minute long repetitive galliard theme which moves into a more energetic section, before the work is brought to a satisfying end with ideas from the first movement.

The First Quartet was premiered in 2008 by the Maggini Quartet, and the positive effect it had on audiences encouraged Corp to write a sister work, the Second Quartet, which opens with a motif that seems to be borrowed from the First. There are, in fact, numerous points of similarity between this work and The Bustard; Corp writes that the Second Quartet “shares the overall sound world of Quartet no.1 and that was intentional—there seemed so much more to say.” If anything, the Second Quartet is more adventurous than the First, with slightly darker writing and more elaboration of ideas—though only actually three minutes longer, it feels bigger and bolder, the last two movements especially. On the other hand, the music is still very straightforward, with relatively little or brief counterpoint or dissonance, for example. Corp dedicates the piece simply to “a baby boy called Sacha”.

Country Matters is another work for string quartet, but this time with added tenor voice, for seven settings of poems by Steve Mainwaring, a boyhood friend of Corp’s. This is a much earlier work—the premiere took place in 1972. Corp describes the poems as “variously poignant and riotously outrageous and [which] occasionally invoke [sic] the Somerset area around Wells in which Steve and I grew up.” Those are a friend’s words—in truth the poems are self-evidently the work of a twenty-year-old, and are twee at best, doggerel at their worst. But what Corp does with them is another matter altogether.

In many instances tenor Mark Wilde must recite the poems using sprechstimme. The first song, ‘I Heard They Were Opening the Zoo’, and the fourth, ‘Don’t Go Into the Kitchen, Mum’ are very much in the style of Walton’s Façade, but all the songs have sections that are spoken to varying degrees over Corp’s atmospheric music, and to good effect. The sixth song, ‘Come Into the Garden’, an eco-lament of sorts, is entirely spoken, and very well done by Wilde. Corp’s quartet writing is fittingly wistful, pensive and nicely understated, whereas his vocal lines are adroit and imaginative, effectively lifting the poems into a higher artistic plane.

Recording quality is excellent. As well as the usual information, the booklet—possibly marking a return to older, better ways for Naxos?—provides the full song texts. There’s no need to download from their website.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, March 2011

Born in the UK in 1951, Ronald Corp follows a varied career ranging from his role as a conductor—including the famous New London Children’s Choir—and a significant output as a composer. Music took over his life while still at school in the cathedral city of Wells in Somerset and it was to take him to Christ Collage, Oxford. He there met the poet, Steve Mainwaring, who provided the words for Country Matters, seven settings for tenor and string trio. Corp describes them as ‘variously poignant and riotously outrageous’, others may describe them as ‘nonsense poems’, but they often contain a questioning message. At times the words are spoken, as in the opening, I heard they were opening the zoo, but moves to a singing voice for such poems as Bird Song, both being used in the final and most extended song, City of Wells. The two string quartets—the disc’s notes do not give dates of composition, or indeed a biography of the composer—are purely tonal in its modern guise. The First, written for the Maggini Quartet, is subtitled The Bustard, and refers the world’s largest flying bird already high on the endangered species list. Efforts are being made to reintroduce it to England, Corp, an enthusiastic amateur ornithologist, picturing the elegant dancing bird in a series of cameos, the repetitive finale moving towards minimalism. Stylistically the Second is from the same mould, its overall character being one of happiness, returning to a more pensive mode in the third movement. The Maggini continue their impressive British music series. The engineering—not from the usual Naxos stable—  ‘catching’ the leader’s top string to impart a raw edge.

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