- Flute Quintet, Op. 493
- Shakespeare Songs, song cycle for tenor & string quartet, Op. 378
- Trio, for flute, cello & harp, Op. 559
- Farewell My Gentle Harp, song, Op. 517
- Pennillion, for flute and harp, Op. 448
Composer Howard Blake has had a long career that went virtually unnoticed until 1982, when he supplied the music for the TV version of Raymond Briggs' holiday book The Snowman. To the world at large, the rest of his output is pretty much unknown, except to those British musicians who have actively cultivated and promoted Blake's music. The members of English Serenata and tenor Martyn Hill are a few of those, and they present some of his chamber and vocal music on this disc. The music is very consistent from work to work: not complex, generally lyrical and gentle, and frequently with jaunty, offbeat rhythms. Blake uses dissonance in some of the "Shakespeare Songs" for purely suggestive reasons: to evoke the cold of winter or the indifference of death. In the final song of that set, "Dirge for Fidele," notes change very slowly, as if mired in the stillness of death. The use of the flute and harp in most of the pieces especially seems to add to the breezy, weightless feel of the music. In the case of the "Trio" and "Pennillion," Blake transcribed the music from the original instrumentation to accomodate the Serenata's Gabrielle Byam-Grounds (flute) and Rowena Bass (harp), to good effect. The trio becomes very reminiscent of the English Pastoralists' music, primarily being a duet between the flute and cello with accompaniment from the harp. Pleasant as Blake's music is, the lack of full interplay of all the musicians is the one drawback of it. It seems overly simplified most of the time, consisting of essentially melody and accompaniment, and the accompaniment is not always the most imaginative, either. The most successful pieces are "Farewell My Gentle Harp" and "Pennillion." "Farewell" is actually a song, but the vocal part is almost incidental to the beautiful harp part, which has its own melodies to counter the vocal melody and is substantial enough to work as a solo piece. "Pennillion" is a true duet with both instruments having equal roles. If Blake's music were always like this, it might have a wider appeal. Meridian's "Natural Sound" recording is clear, if slightly dry.