Album Review: Anthony Ritchie, A Bugle Will Do

By William Dart

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Anthony Ritchie: A Bugle Will Do. Photo / Supplied
Anthony Ritchie: A Bugle Will Do. Photo / Supplied

Anthony Ritchie must be our most prolific composer - his new orchestral CD, A Bugle Will Do, features opus numbers that run well into three figures. Technically, this is a superlative recording. Wayne Laird's finely-gauged production draws on the sympathetic acoustics of Wellington Town Hall to match glowing climaxes with individual glimmerings in the more lightly scored passages.

The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, under the meticulous Tecwyn Evans, gives just over an hour of this solid, well-crafted music a respectful Rolls-Royce treatment.

The centrepiece is Ritchie's Symphony No 3, a serious statement on what the composer describes as "the two sides of human personality". He refers to the two-faced Roman god Janus but listeners may relate to the piece as a commentary on the contemporary issue of bipolar affliction.

Titling its two movements "Up" and "Down" is a mite literal, however; and, like much of the work in this collection, there is often the uneasy feeling that any moment Ritchie's music is going to swerve into someone else's.

Shostakovich and Bartok are still strong influences, while the heartier moments in the symphony's first movement come across as lashings of Leonard Bernstein with log drum and tom tom trimmings.

The trip down, in the second movement, is more telling when understated. At the start, isolated, vulnerable woodwind writing is suspended over ominous banks of sound - a far more vivid conception than the busy instrumental dialogues designed to give the 17- minute movement a symphonic spine.

Of the three shorter works, the title piece, written to commemorate the death of war hero Sir Charles Upham, has a brilliance and fluency that recalls the late Edwin Carr. Yet the opening sounds too much like a strange marriage between Mahler and Saint-Saens, with a climax, just after the five-minute mark, that is pure Hollywood.

We are told "A Bugle Will Do" was Upham's response to the offer of a state funeral; perhaps a modest fanfare would have been a more appropriate celebration?

Anthony Ritchie: A Bugle Will Do (Atoll, through Ode Records)
Stars: 4/5
Verdict: "Anthony Ritchie's remarkably fluent if conservative music in an NZSO showcase"

- NZ Herald

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