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Rob Keeley

Dances with Bears

Release Date 2013

Catalogue No. LNT138

Music by:

Rob Keeley

Performed by:

Mary Dullea (piano)
Odaline de la Martínez (conductor)
Caroline Balding (violin)
Dominic Saunders (piano)
Rowland Sutherland (flute)
Andrew Sparling (clarinet)

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Although Rob Keeley may be known among contemporary music mavens for his formidable pianistic prowess and championing of new works, he is a serious and skilful composer in his own right, as these six works dating from 1996 to 2011 prove.

Scored for three clarinets, vibraphone and string trio, Quetzalli’s chordal blocks recall Messiaen’s textures and harmonic language, although On the Tiles for violin and piano lets looser in terms of contrasting material and emotions, especially in the wide-ranging, unfettered violin writing. The title-piece, Dancing with Bears, is for oboe, violin, viola, cello and piano, and stands out in its subtle slow-moving sequences and the closing Allegro’s angular dotted rhythms and quirky voicings. Virtuoso deployment of registers lends interest to the well crafted yet rather academic-sounding Inventions for flute and clarinet. Keeley’s annotations admit to his avoidance of writing much for strings until he decided to take the plunge with Tales from the Golden City for violin solo. Despite some fine double-stop passages, the music would gain power and intensity if it branched more frequently into the higher range and made more imaginative use of pizzicato effects.

The four-movement Concerto for piano and 12 instruments offers this disc’s strongest musical substance and intricate scoring. The first movement’s neo-Baroque toccata-like textures get interesting when they begin to slow down and stick together, while the Alla marcia could be likened to Hindemith meeting Spike Jones’s rhythm section. I would have expected a bravura fourth movement rather than a reticent finale but the third-movement Adagio’s fragile instrumental blending and tender lyrical writing is worth this well-recorded and superbly performed disc’s asking price.

Robin Holloway

I have been greatly diverted and delighted by the larger half of this disc ... the Inventions for flute and clarinet are a real pleasure - cool or sparky, lyric or energetic, always ingenious and genuinely “inventive”. Dances with Bears is fun in its Weir-ish way: the Concerto for piano and 12 instruments reveals comparable excellence on a larger canvas (if still a tiny bit “modern-music”-ish ...). This work nonetheless makes the highlight with the disc’s first and best number, Quetzalli ... 10 minutes’ worth of sonorous pleasure, a sort of mix of Messiaen and the MJQ, yet its own sound entirely, precisely-focussed and sensitive, frisky and expressive; not a moment too long ... which leaves one wanting more! And now I must find out what the title means. ... Next, please!

Rob Barnett, MUSICWEB

Rob Keeley is a British composer whose studies took him to Oliver Knussen (RCM), Bernard Rose (Magdalen College Oxford) and Robert Saxton. Later his teachers included Franco Donatoni and Hans Werner Henze. After years as a freelance pianist and répétiteur he is now on the staff of King’s College London and is an active concert musician…

This collection of colourfully active music starts with the kaleidoscopic jerky eloquence of Quetzali. On the tiles, for violin and piano, deploys music with pronounced spaces between phrases. This halting and thoughtful effect makes way for writing of a brambly Bartókian kind. Dances with Bears is “An imaginary ursine choreography” which moves in a constellation of unsentimental dissonance; Copland at his most chilled…


Tales from the Golden City is in three short movements. The composer tells us that it was written quickly one summer in Llandudno. The finale is a dignified dance. Each of the movements starts in various guises with a recognisable little figure which the composer says is intended to suggest Scheherazade. Finally there’s the Concerto for piano and 12 instruments (2 flutes, 2 clarinets, 2 violins, 2 violas, double bass, bassoon, horn and percussion). It’s in four movements the textures of which would go well with those of Constant Lambert’s Concerto for piano and nine instruments. The icy central Adagio is buttressed by two more brilliant movements…

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