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I was delighted to be able to review this disc. Eric Biddington (born 1953) would not be a composer known to most of you, but I am quite familiar with him. He was born in Timaru, New Zealand, but has become a musical fixture on the Christchurch musical scene and often used to write music for a donation of food or similar services in lieu of cash. His music is fresh and enjoyable from a listener's point of view, and is very playable from a performance perspective.
For a few years I played first oboe for the Canterbury Philharmonia, an enthusiast amateur orchestra which for many years has been a vital part of the Christchurch music scene. It often sponsors emerging performers, commissions works by local composers and tours small country towns that would otherwise be unlikely to receive a visit from an orchestra, all under the direction of the gifted and tireless conductor Mark Hodgkinson. During the time I was with the orchestra, we commissioned (through the NZ Composers Foundation) a work called Anniversary Overture, and this is how I met Eric Biddington.
On this recording, the Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra is directed by Rupert Bond for Navona Records. This was a great choice. The orchestra is solid, the brass section is particularly impressive and the recording does full justice to this bright and pleasing music.
The first track, Classical Overture, is a bright five-minute work hinting of the atmosphere of a classical overture. It is more about atmosphere and orchestration than being truly representative of the period. This well crafted and deliciously scored work is a great opening piece for this album.
Listen — Eric Biddington: Classical Overture
(NV6420 track 1, 0:00-0:47) ℗ 2022 Navona Records LLC :
The next piece, Eat Your Brekky (and you will grow big and strong), is a rather jaunty march and reminds me of the early commercials on TV and radio, depicting healthy rosy-cheeked children, after consuming a healthy breakfast, marching off to perhaps partake of various youth groups. There is a martial theme that is somewhat discordant and ominous in the middle, with my mind wondering if some of these children will be conscripted into the armed services.
Listen — Eric Biddington: Eat Your Brekky (and you will grow big and strong)
(NV6420 track 2, 2:26-3:13) ℗ 2022 Navona Records LLC :
In Geraldine - Small Town Reflections, is the longest track on this disc. Geraldine is a small town nestled in the foothills of South Canterbury with a population of about 2,600 people and is part of the inland scenic route that winds from Fairlie To Christchurch. It is a delightful small town and is a favourite stop off for people on the way to The MacKenzie Basin inland. It has a tight knit community and there are many interesting walks and places nearby. It also gets a little more rain than much of Canterbury, and from my memory it was always a nice green and gentle place. The final section reflects the vibrancy and joyfulness of its inhabitants. I imagine this is a favourite place of the composer. There are moments of wistfulness, and it is a reflective work.
Listen — Eric Biddington: Geraldine - Small Town Reflections
(NV6420 track 3, 5:54-6:45) ℗ 2022 Navona Records LLC :
Sillybuggers is light-hearted and I cannot help but wonder if this does not refer to the high spirited youths often referred to locally as 'boy racers', who group together in fast cars, each trying to outdo the others.
Listen — Eric Biddington: Sillybuggers
(NV6420 track 4, 3:11-3:49) ℗ 2022 Navona Records LLC :
Hillmorton is a suburb in Christchurch where the composer lives, and he is a cat lover. Cats of Hillmorton begins in a sleepy, lugubrious fashion. Then there is an explosion of energy and anticipation, perhaps a confrontation and twitching of tails and hisses and yowls, but the tension releases and the music becomes jaunty and relaxed - a great piece.
Listen — Eric Biddington: Cats of Hillmorton
(NV6420 track 5, 6:09-6:52) ℗ 2022 Navona Records LLC :
Doctor Knows Best (For Anyone and Everyone) starts somewhat ominously before a rather jaunty, confident tune emerges. In a way, this is the most thought-provoking work on the disc and as the piece progresses from this optimistic march, one senses that, for all his (or her) certainty, that perhaps Doctor does not know best (at least not all the time). In my mind at least, sometimes the doctor is defeated, as can be the outcome in any war. The composer battled ill health for many years, and perhaps this is a reflection on his own experiences.
Listen — Eric Biddington: Doctor Knows Best (For Anyone and Everyone)
(NV6420 track 6, 5:57-6:50) ℗ 2022 Navona Records LLC :
The final work, Homage to Bach, is indeed that and it incorporates workings of a favourite Bach Martin Luther chorale 'Ein feste Burg is unser Gott'. The writing is skilful and is a fantastic way to end this disc and shows the skill of the composer, and is truly a great homage to J S Bach.
Listen — Eric Biddington: Homage to Bach
(NV6420 track 7, 3:20-4:06) ℗ 2022 Navona Records LLC :
I think this disc will resonate with listeners wishing to hear something new, but not totally unfamiliar. There is a comfort and joy about Biddington's music and I hope that more of his works are played and recorded. They have an advocate with this recording.
Copyright © 1 May 2022