This work was commissioned in 1967 by the English Chamber Orchestra and was completed the following year. The work is dedicated to Alan Bush with whom the composer studied at the Royal Academy of Music from 1963-67.
Music for Chamber Orchestra is in four movements. The opening movement is the longest and has a sonata form structure. There are two main ideas: a fugal style chromatic subject, sombre and slow, is announced by strings and builds to climax as the wind section enters. A more lyrical second subject is announced by the oboe over a repetitive rhythmic string accompaniment. Both ideas are fully developed before the mood of the opening returns and a plaintive coda (with oboe prominent) concludes the movement.
The scherzo-like second movement is fairly light-hearted in character and has a jaunty tune as its main idea. The slow third movement (adagio, mesto e sostenuto) returns to the mood of the very opening of the work. The first section uses sustained strings, with both horns, whilst the second section uses the wind almost totally. The movement then builds to a powerful climax before returning to the opening idea. The last movement is a cheerful rondo with two episodes, the first lyrical, the second highly rhythmic.
Music for Chamber Orchestra, which was originally written for Barenboim and the ECO, is a very fine work, perfectly capable of standing by itself after 43 years. It remains an impressive score, full of genuine musical thinking.
Robert Matthew-Walker, International Record Review (January 2011)
One of [Gregson’s] earliest orchestral works is the Music for Chamber Orchestra, completed in 1968 when the composer was a mere 23 year old. It is dedicated to his teacher at the Royal Academy of Music, Alan Bush. It might be regarded as a sort of chamber symphony although the title and some of the music rather points towards Bartók. Other influences such as Hindemith and Shostakovich may be spotted here and there, but the music already displays remarkable assurance. This is clearly a young man’s work, ambitious while still showing some of his influences. I found it wholly convincing.
Hubert Culot, MusicWeb International
Music for Chamber Orchestra owes much to Shostakovich and the English string tradition.
Andrew Clark, Financial Times (March 2011)