The Flower Waltz, a piece for small ensemble, arr. Strauss; soloist – K Pietersen

TMS spent a good part of Tuesday’s ODI going on about cricketers with composers’ names, prompted by the appearance of Dean Elgar. This, given the news that came out on Wednesday, gave us an idea…

So the final movement has drawn to a close, perhaps with slightly more of a piano finish than the conductor intended, but with the critics looking back on the entire piece and exchanging some impressed looks.

Let’s be clear here, maestro Strauss did not compose this piece – rather he arranged it from an original theme by the modernist duo of Fletcher and Vaughan, with significant (and not entirely positive) later alterations made by Pietersen. Strauss, speaking at the unveiling of the new arrangement, was quick to highlight the Flower theme of the piece, which is present throughout, and the constancy of the instrumentation, which sees only a few new textures introduced mid-piece.

The start, it has to be said, is not the highlight. With the percussion displaying a distinctly Caribbean flavour, the nadir of the entire work comes at 51 seconds, as the ensemble produces some unpleasant dissonances and, in the performance we saw, the orchestra stand actually collapsed and the performance had to be restarted after a short break. Certainly here, Strauss has not entirely removed the influence of Pietersen on the opening, as the brash timbre of this master of zany dischords and alternative musical structures is present most noticeably in these early stages (although they do return in force towards the end). On balance, Strauss was right to retain some of these Pietersen-esque influences, but the conflicts in these early stages do not make for the most easy-on-the-ear music.

Pietersen, it seems, insisted on making his mark on the piece, despite the changes made by Strauss. Indeed, the former was lead soloist in the performance we saw, with the solo being written especially for the loudest instrument in the orchestra, the trombone. Pietersen’s zeal in his interpretation of the solo did approach the over-the-top at times, and there were a few slips and stutters at key moments, although these were forgotten as some of the most difficult and spectacular parts were traversed with ease. Towards the end, however, the solo becomes overloud and repetitive, its notes blaring and unpleasant, before disappearing entirely after one particularly whiny note just before the final passage. Certainly it took all of Strauss’s skill as an arranger to prevent the solo dominating the piece entirely.

The opus has two glorious high points: first, the recurrence of the variations on Waltzing (all over) Matilda at 2:09-2:11 in the rumbustuous middle movement, second, the culmination of the early building-work reaching its pinnacle with the aggressive timpani section played with the ICC mace. The dissonance, however, returns near the end. There was, perhaps, a slightly underwhelming finish as the strong English themes were drowned out by the sound of the Johannesburg Township Gospel Choir (conductor G. Smith).

In conclusion, these critics feel that future generations will look back on this piece as amongst the finest in a long line of English works. It is a welcome return to prominence for the English School, although it has to be said that the identity of the piece has been significantly bolstered by the influence of some of the good works coming out of South Africa. The impact of Strauss, the master arranger, on what already had the makings of a fine piece, has been subtle and understated, but nevertheless brings together the whole ensemble in a triumph of orchestral unity (apart from the solo, which wanders, sometimes aimlessly, above the rest). We await to see what the next generation of composers, led by the young but capable Alastair Cook (Bedford School), will have to offer.

 
First Night Performance – Lord’s

Ensemble

Musical Director – A. Flower
Conductor – A. Strauss

Lead Soloist (trombone) – K.P. Pietersen

First Violin – J. Anderson
First Trumpet – G. Swann
Second Trumpet – S. Broad
Tuba – J. Trott
French Horn (broken valves) – A. Flintoff
Timpani – T. Bresnan
Lead Vocals – M. Prior
Second Fiddle – A. Cook
Triangle – I. (Ronald) Bell
Flute – R. Bopara was taken ill shortly before the performance and was replaced by J. Taylor

Other players with minor roles included P. Collingwood, M. Panesar and R. Sidebottom.

Tea and cheese sandwiches were provided for the entire ensemble by T. Bresnan.

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2 Comments

  1. A Masterpiece!! Both Strauss’s performance and your review of it!

    Reply
  2. Absolutely stunning article. Great read!!
    Nichollssportblog.wordpress.com/cricket

    Reply

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