I am very glad I bought this cd. The music was specially composed for performance on a barge that took part in the Diamond Jubilee `flotilla' on 3rd June 2012. It is not an album of sentimentally patriotic music; nor is it an attempt to re-compose Handel's original piece. But it is an album that should make you feel proud of British composers and musicians today.
All eleven composers have, to a greater or lesser degree, written music for film and television. They were each given the title of a movement from the original Water Music, and asked to take it as a starting point for inspiration. Each composer conducts their own piece, recorded here by the marvellous `H20' ensemble in a studio one month before the flotilla. There is a certain continuity to the album, perhaps because the composers knew they were writing specifically for this group. The overall sound reminds me of modern orchestras like `Icebreaker' (strings, brass, woodwind, percussion, electric keyboards, electric and acoustic guitars) but maybe not so `modernist'.
Of course with 11 different composers you are bound to have some pieces that you prefer to others. Project co-ordinator Gavin Greenaway's piece is easily the least impressive, sounding a bit like a bland tv theme for a sports programme. Howard Goodall (of Blackadder/QI fame)'s contribution was also a bit insipid, although improving in the middle. Even these two pieces sound fairly good played by H20.
OK grumbles over. Anne Dudley is deservedly first on this cd; she kicks off with a wonderfully brave and bold fanfare-like theme, full of tension and expectation. She seems to make a point of accentuating the `fast-slow-fast' form found in baroque music; the central section features a sumptuous trumpet melody fit for a royal occasion. The first time I heard Debbie Wiseman's `Gigue', I thought it was a bit ugly, but on repeated listens it's irresistibly infectious (you can see a video on Youtube of Debbie rehearsing the piece with H20). John Lunn used to be in the band `Man Jumping', and his `Bourrée' reminds me a lot of their music, at its best. Stephen Warbeck's `Air on the River' begins like a soundtrack for a happy street party, but then seems unable to resist developing into something more sublime (in that respect reminds me of the Penguin Cafe Orchestra). Julian Nott's `Overture & Allegro' sounds like Handel but at the speed of Usain Bolt. That might not seem like a good mix, but I didn't want it to stop. Christopher Gunning's `Jubilee Gavotte-Rock' could be a tv detective theme. It's a bit corny, but somehow I'd really like to see that show! And the way it breaks off into a string quartet is very enjoyable. Graham Fitkin is perhaps the most `modernist' composer here, but his movement `Slowish' is compulsive listening; with its driving, jazzy rhythms its `complexity' is addictive and fun rather than off-putting. I love Adrian Johnston's `Alla Hornpipe', which starts with a gentle sea-shanty like tune, before exploding into a galloping dance (you can almost feel the sea-spray). Finally there are voices; Jocelyn Pook's `London Bells' sets a Kipling poem, sung by mezzo Lore Lixenberg and the Tamil vocalist Manickam Yogeswaren.
It's a crying shame that the BBC did not devote a bit of time in its coverage of the pageant to this project (or to another barge which featured Orlando Gough's music with words by the Poet Laureate) - but perhaps the next best thing would be to buy this cd (10% of proceeds go to the Diamond Jubilee Foundation).
PS - sound quality on this recording is excellent.