I first came across the music of Jim Parker in the wonderful record made with the late John Betjeman, Banana Blush. I remember feeling that the poetry and the music were a perfect match for each other. Since that time, despite not being an avid watcher of television, I have seen Parker's name in TV credits for programmes as diverse as House of Cards, The House of Elliot, Foyle's War and Midsomer Murders. For the concert hall, there is a splendid Clarinet Concerto, the wonderful A Londoner in New York for brass and Mississippi Five for wind quintet. I am beholden to the liner notes written by the composer for all information about these four works.
A South American Journey is based on an imaginary visit to that continent. The work was originally conceived for recorder and harpsichord. The music celebrates the life of the late Stephen Dodgson, and was commissioned by John Turner, who plays the recorder in this recording. Parker has rescored the work for ‘forces available,' which includes string quartet, harp, double bass and recorders. The Journey has five contrasting movements, all sporting Spanish titles: ‘Tango Cinco', ‘Pueblo Tranquilo', ‘Volando', ‘La Cometa' and ‘Rapido.' It is a thoroughly enjoyable suite that creates an excellent Latin American atmosphere. There is much splendid virtuosic playing by John Turner.
Stephane Grappelli was one of the ‘greats' of popular music. Along with Jean "Django" Reinhardt, he is best recalled for the performances and recordings made with the legendary Quintette du Hot Club de France. Jim Parker's Bonjour M. Grappelli is written for string quartet and seeks to emulate the great man's playing style without being pastiche. There are four well-balanced movements. The first introduces the tune ‘High Rise Blues' which began life with the Barrow Poets in 1972. The second, an ‘Elegy' is quiet and thoughtful. It is dedicated to the late Celia Sheen, the Theremin player in the Midsomer Murder TV series. It had a previous life as the theme tune to a forgotten TV series Body and Soul. ‘Hurdy Gurdy' was originally used in a musical for BBC TV called Petticoat Lane. I love the way the second violin plays (deliberately) a tone flat at the beginning and end of this piece. The final movement, ‘Au Revoir M Grappelli' revisits the blues tune, with some quite romantic and thoughtful playing.
The Three Diversions were first heard at the opening of the Ida Carroll Walkway at the Royal Northern College of Music. Once again Parker has made use of themes he wrote for television. Listeners will recognise the tune in the final movement, ‘A Leave Taking'. It is based on the traditional song ‘The Leaving of Liverpool'. It was composed in memory of Anthony Hopkins, composer, pianist, musicologist and conductor. The other two Diversions are a lively ‘Spring Dance' and a meditative ‘Paean.' There is a definite Irish feel with much of this music. Fab! The work is scored for string quartet, recorders, double bass and harp.
The final work on this imaginative CD is Hoofers, written for oboe and piano. The pieces are quite disconnected in titles and imagery, but make a satisfying suite. The first is in praise of the train running between London King's Cross and Edinburgh, named the ‘Flying Scotsman'. Parker has created an effective train sound. The second piece is ‘Banjolele' and derived its inspiration from P.G. Wodehouse's Bertie Wooster. The protagonist was evicted from several lodgings because of his attachment to this instrument and his desire to master its intricacies. Even Jeeves walks out. No banjolele here, just a jaunty little tune with a sprightly piano accompaniment. Next comes ‘The Lonely Ballerina' which is another reworking of a theme from Midsomer Murders. More of a reflection about a life well danced than a depiction of a night at the ballet. Quite charming. The finale is the eponymous ‘Hoofers', about a troop of dancers in Paris. The music is appropriate for a depiction of Hoofers – dancers. A great way to conclude the fascinating CD. The playing is simply superb.
Typically, the liner notes are excellent and give all relevant details about the music performed. There are also brief notes about the composer and the artists, but no names given for the players in the Solem Quartet. I located them in the 'net.
It is unfortunate that dates for each work have not been given. This problem was not solved with a Google search. Even the composer's date of birth is not included. I do believe that this information is very important to many listeners.
This is a fantastic CD. It is full of imaginative, interesting and well-wrought music that has the distinct advantage of being totally approachable and enjoyable. Jim Parker has a unique voice in music that manages to seamlessly cross the divide between popular, classical and light.
After graduating as an oboist at the Guildhall School of Music, Jim Parker played with leading orchestras and chamber groups before concentrating on composing and conducting. He had early success with a series of recordings in which he sympathetically set to music the poems of John Betjeman, spoken by the poet and conducted by himself. These and subsequent records led to work in theatre, film and television, for which he has written scores for hundreds of programmes such as House of Cards, Foyles War and Midsomer Murders, winning BAFTA award for best television music four times. Classical compositions include a Concerto for Clarinet, a one act opera for Channel Four Television, settings of poems by Oscar Wilde and chamber music for wind ensembles.
This very enjoyable album collects a number of Parker's recent compositions which have a pictorial quality and display his remarkable talent for memorable melodies and colouration, whether it be the recorder acting like a Peruvian pipe, or violins emulating the Hurdy-Gurdy. Light music albums of this quality are rare these days and this is a joyful gem. The first three suites are scored for String Quartet (some with recorder, harp and bass); Hoofers (named for stage dancers) is a suite for oboe and piano of individual pieces: The Flying Scotsman, The Lonely Ballerina, Banjolele and Hoofers. The talented musicians are Richard Simpson (oboe), Janet Simpson (piano), John Turner (recorder), Anna Christensen (harp), Alex Jones (double bass) and the Solem Quartet.
The title says it all: Parker writes light music, and the collection takes the listener to different parts of the world. (He also wears his talent lightly, the sleeve notes being witty and self-deprecating).
You might not know the name of Jim Parker but you'll know his music; he has written for television and his scores include Foyle's War, House of Cards, Midsomer Murders and House of Elliott.
If the seriousness of “classical” music puts you off, you'll love this. The opening piece, A South American Journey , is in memory of composer Stephen Dodgson, who never went to South America, and features recorder and harpsichord, which are not South American instruments; the fourth movement nods to mariachi, which is Mexican. The titles of the five movements are in Spanish but Parker admits he looked them up in a dictionary. It's true the flute sometimes sounds like an Andean siku (panpipes to you, like Mr P we looked it up in a dictionary) but it's flutiness prevents the pieces sounding like one of those cheesy bands you see in shopping centres, and it's entertaining stuff.
Bonjour M Grappelli is the next piece, a tribute to the legendary jazz violinist that reworks three of Parker's old themes, with added Grappelli violin flourishes. There's nothing not to like here; it sounds like a theme for a television show that's not yet been written.
Three Diversions was written to celebrate the opening of the Ida Carroll Walkway at the RNCM (we had another album of music for the same event a while back; it must have been some show). These are lively pieces that sound in places as if they were lifted from a Mike Oldfield album, so even novices to classical music will find an entry point.
The CD closes with our favourite, Hoofers , four pieces for oboe and piano. The Flying Scotsman celebrates that train, which Parker saw when he was younger: train sounds from the piano, excitement and drama from the oboe. Lonely Ballerina is reworking of music from Midsomer Murders. The closing piece, Hoofers , celebrates the Bluebell Girls, dancers at the Paris Lido.
Easy on the ear, plenty of melody and variation and with a definite lightness of step, this is something of a minor gem.
The music is performed by John Turner (recorders), Anna Christensen (harp), The Solem Quartet, and Richard and Janet Simpson (oboe and piano).