Philip Spratley (b.1942): Orchestral Music, Vol. 2 / Siberian SO, Dmitry Vasiliev


Despite the fact that an illustration of a piano keyboard is their logo, and the term "toccata" is most often associated with music for keyboard, Toccata Classics is not just a "piano label". In addition to the many revelatory premiere recordings of keyboard music the label has given us, another key area of their output has been 20th century orchestral music. This second volume of orchestral music by Philip Spratley falls into this later category. The program includes Spratley's Symphony No. 3, Sinfonia Pascale, the orchestral suite Cargoes and A Helpston Fantasia performed by the Siberian Symphony Orchestra conducted by Dmitry Vasiliev (this has been my first encounter with the Siberian Symphony, and I'm quite impressed).

Born in 1942 in Nottinghamshire, Philip Spratley is a British composer, writer, educator and church organist. His current catalog numbers over fifty compositions. As the selection of works on this recording demonstrates, he writes in a broad range of styles, making it difficult to summarily describe his music. What I can say, however, is that Spratley's music sounds very British. We can hear in his music the serious sides of Vaughan Williams, Arnold and Britten as well as the light classics scores of Delius, Butterworth and Grainger. He has absorbed much of what is significant and enduring from music composed in the U.K. during the past century.

The opening work on the CD, Cargoes: Suite for Orchestra, was completed in 2012. Based on the poem by John Masefield, the composer describes it as 'three songs without words'. Of the three works in the program, this one falls between the other two in terms of expressive complexity. The third movement of this piece, Dirty British Coaster, can be heard on the video in the sidebar. Written in the manner of the jaunty dances by Grainger, Coates and Arnold, the following work, A Helpston Fantasia (2010), is a catchy toe-tapper, based on the traditional English melody Turnpike Gate.

The final work on the program, Spratley's Symphony No. 3, Sinfonia Pascale (2009), is a fresh and original creation. Powerfully orchestrated, the impressive first movement ends in a tidal wave of resplendent sound and the third movement contains some music of blazing beauty. Special mention must be made of the Siberian orchestra's brass section who handles Spratley's demanding writing with assurance and authority. This is a very enjoyable album, and if you're interested in hearing more of Spratley's music, the earlier Toccata Classics recording of his music is a program of works for string orchestra (Toccata 0088).