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Bryan Kelly (b.1934)

Bryan KellyBryan Kelly is the communicator of an irrepressible joie de vivre, and a consummate professional whether delivering an engaging lecture–recital illustrated by his own immaculate piano playing, or a brand new instrumental or choral work for admired colleagues. An exuberant presence over five decades of British musical life, he has written symphonies, overtures, concertos, opera, and a distinguished series of canticle settings, including the uplifting ‘Kelly in C’ and, in the Stainer & Bell catalogue, the Kentucky Canticles inspired by the singing of Paul Robeson.

Several early works were created for the renowned Leicester Schools Symphony Orchestra, and he has throughout his career composed expertly for young performers. Speaking of his choral music, Kelly has said that he writes the sort of music he would like to have sung as a boy – as a treble in the choir of Worcester College, Oxford. Indeed, his openness to the influence of popular culture, of other art forms, and of the sights and sounds encountered in a career that has taken him from Oxford to Rome, and from Egypt to the Dordogne, bears witness to his conviction that music is central to the enjoyment of life.

There is definitely much pleasure to be found in the carols and instrumental suites with piano published by Stainer & Bell. Many of them present new twists on old themes, whether in the familiar melody by Peter Warlock quoted in The Capriol Carol, or in the tuneful, contemporary take on baroque and romantic forms found in the Globe Theatre Suite for descant recorder or piccolo, Songs and Dances for flute, the Partita for trombone, and Diversions for double bass.

Perhaps the most pleasing aspect of these and other pieces is a wholesome musical sanity, the foundation of Kelly’s wide-ranging humour, and an outcome perhaps of studies with the English traditionalist Herbert Howells and the French neo-classicist Nadia Boulanger. The eight vignettes comprising Mood Pieces for soprano saxophone (or clarinet) perfectly balance the complementary halves of this legacy, while the four movements of Brass Bagatelles, though purely abstract, each conveys a precisely conceived feeling. And in the Whodunnit Suite, dedicated to the outstanding ‘Poirot’ David Suchet, burlesque is sharpened on the whetstone of Kelly’s wit into sparkling caricature – of ‘Lavinia Lurex (Actress)’, ‘Colonel Glib (Retired)’ and ‘Miss Slight (Spinster of This Parish)’, all invented creatures of the composer’s teeming imagination.

A popular choice for grade examinations, Bryan Kelly’s urbane and melodious music continues to be widely heard and enjoyed. Many works can now be found in the recording catalogue too, including the Globe Theatre Suite arranged for recorder and strings and played by John Turner on the Heritage label (Heritage HTCD285).

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