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John Bevan Baker - Hebrides Ensemble - Gramophone

01 November 2006
Barry Witherden

I found it difficult to credit that John Bevan Baker's Songs of Courtship, completed in 1988 and receiving their first recording here, were from the same pen as the other pieces on this CD. Even Rorate Coeli Desuper, also from 1988, appears to inhabit a different musical world from the Songs, yet this piece also suggests a gulf between the composer's approach to voices and to instruments. On this track, a setting of a poem by 15th-century Scottish poet William Dunbar, the choral writing seemed to be striving to achieve an effect, while that for the instruments - not least supple early passages for cello and bass - flowed naturally, effortlessly creating an atmosphere. The Songs, a set of admittedly inventive miniatures, were conceived for the amatuer choir that Baker founded in Fortrose on the Moray Firth where he spent his retirement from music teaching, so I may be accused of judging them too harshly; but some of the instrumental pieces were also written for non-professionals and I found all of these more engaging, stimulating and satisfying. Whatever, Peter Maxwell Davies described Baker's music as "beautifully crafted, transparently honest... of great warmth and melodic fecundity" and you may consider that to be a sufficient recommendation. I had no reservations about the instrumental works, which are full of life, developed with a vigorous and organic logic and performed with great affection. I don't think it is too fanciful to hear Baker's love of Scotland and its countryside and coastlands throughout these pieces.
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