In October 2019 I interviewed composer Richard Blackford in London. I was about to attend a performance of his rich and moving choral work Pièta which premiered at the Cadogan Hall in London to great acclaim. See my review here https://bit.ly/36E60s7
During our meeting I questioned Blackford on his optimum environment for composing. He spoke of his absolute need for tranquillity. Eight hours a day were spent in the studio of his Oxfordshire home. His confinement was punctuated by a regular lunchtime walk through his village. This daily ramble would more often or not lead him to a small lake teeming with wildlife. Such an existence can be both idyllic and lonely, he admitted at the time, which is why he looked forward to his wife returning from work to give her feedback on his music.
With the love of his lake, Blackford joins other composers who have been inspired by these landlocked waters. On a walking holiday in the Salzkammergut region in Austria, I remember circling the shores of Lake Attersee where Gustav Mahler walked, looking across its ink-blue waters. There is something about lakes, their flatness, their expanse and their delineated space which inspire introspection but also creative structure. A lake is like a stage where anything can happen. Any wildlife can land.
It was no surprise to hear that Blackford had composed a love song to his village lake and surroundings entitled ‘Blewbury Air’, composed in the summer of 2019 and recorded more recently during June of 2020, during lockdown.
‘Blewbury Air’ is for Cello and Piano and as I sat down to listen to it last week, I was struck by how different I imagined the work would be. I was preparing myself for a Debussy lightness, calm sunlight flitting across waters but what Blackford has written is punchier and real.
The score divides into three sections: By The Water’s Edge, Incantation with Bells and The Wind in the Branches.
The cello opening in By the Water’s Edge is heavy, lumbering, consisting of dissonant notes performed in a repeated six-beat rondo. They call to mind the staggering progression of a large creature, a water fowl? Or maybe something much broader and fundamental, the birth of life itself. I was reminded momentarily of Messiaen’s glorious opening to his momentous religious work Vingt Regards sur L’Enfant-Jésus (Le Regard du Père) where God looks down on his creation. The piano mimics the cello with its dissonances, the harmony shifting continually making us restless and wondering when the release will come. From this swirling heaviness, the piano’s rippling arpeggiandi are introduced, lightening the mood, the playful jumps and runs over the keys conjure a water fowl treading water who beats its wings to break its landing. The effects are ephemeral however as the churning opening theme returns.
With Incantation with Bells the agitated waters recede. A beautiful reflective and poignant cello melody takes its place, supported by bell like Japanese-sounding chords and melody on the piano. Absolutely gorgeous and wonderfully original in its oriental development.
The Wind in the Branches blows away everything that has gone on before, the fast interplay between piano and cello, and trembling bow action, mimicking the quivering trees in the wind.
This beautiful musical expression of a lunchtime walk in Blewsbury is interpreted with flair and passion by cellist Raphael Wallfisch and pianist Adrian Farmer.
Ideally to be combined with Blackford’s Pietà also out on Nimbus Records if you have not heard it before. Highly recommended.
Interview with Richard Blackford :