This work, which was written in 1977, is dedicated to Janet Hilton who was soloist, with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, in its first performance in June 1978 at the Scottish National Orchestra Proms. The work was commissioned by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, with help from the Scottish Arts Council. It's scored for two flutes, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, two horns, timpani, harp and strings. There are four movements played without a break.
Like several other recent compositions, the work derives from the idea of dialogues and characters. In the first movement various themes are introduced, each associated with a particular instrument or group - the most important melodic/harmonic idea in the work is heard at the start on the horns and the solo clarinet's tune out of this is also a major element in the work. As the first movement proceeds the various tunes are contrasted and juxtaposed with increasing intensity, and in some cases the instruments exchange identities and take over each other's ideas. After this dialogue has reached its peak the music goes into the second movement which is scored for strings only plus timpani and harp. This has the character of a lament and it leads into the third movement, a shortened and varied reprise of material from the opening moderato in which, once again, the themes are given to different instruments.
In the finale, the quickest movement of the four, the dialogue is in some ways more traditionally that of a concerto in its alternation of solo and tutti passages, but the material is all derived from the first movement, and at the very end of the work the lament theme from the Andante is referred to briefly, the work ending in an echo from the past rather than a decisive conclusion.
© John McCabe