WORKS: Snakebite; At the White Edge of Phrygia; Varshavian Autumn; Behold a Pale Horse
PERFORMER: Orchestra & Choir of St John’s, Smith Square/John Lubbock
CATALOGUE NO: CD DCA 991
American, but long resident in London, Stephen Montague has been called a Romantic minimalist. While this helps identify the style of At the White Edge of Phrygia, it doesn’t do justice to its individuality in assembling repetitive patterns into a dramatic and compelling three-part structure. Composed in 1983 it’s the only non-recent piece on this disc; the full-orchestra version of At the White Edge of Phrygia is available on Continuum, but the chamber-orchestra original makes a splendid impact here.
Elsewhere the range is wider. Snakebite for orchestra – with its country-music sources, dazzling textures and entertaining onomatopoeic effects – demonstrates Montague the Showman. The appropriately atmospheric, if somewhat protracted, Varshavian Autumn for orchestra and wordless choir, reworked from an earlier piece, evokes Halloween in Warsaw in 1972, when the composer arrived to study there. Behold a Pale Horse, in a version for organ and brass, is blatantly, almost artlessly apocalyptic. But like the Orchestra of St John’s, Smith Square (with which Montague was associate composer from 1995-7) and its choir, Christopher Bowers-Broadbent on organ performs with precision and commitment. Keith Potter