MusicWeb International, November 2010
Paths of Song is an hour’s worth of gentle, melodic string, wind and harp music in the almost pastoral tradition of Vaughan Williams and Butterworth. That said, it lacks the former’s bitterness and stridency and is lighter on melancholy than the latter. There are even traces of Kevin Volans in the way Metcalf hovers around a note or chord … the G tonalities towards the end of Llwybrau Cân (Paths of Song) [tr.6], for example. Metcalf’s work is in no way derivative, though. Nor could it be described as being too firmly rooted in past styles. Although not overtly contemporary, its structure and purpose are clearly defined and deftly executed.
Llwybrau Cân is the longest work, and the one from which the CD takes its title. It’s inspired by the composer’s attachment to the many forms of travel – both personal, conceptual, and physical, actual; hence its tempo: crotchet=116. Interestingly, this single movement piece truly evolves, in that it has a much more definite sense of direction and outcome by the end than appeared likely at the beginning.
The next piece was inspired by Turner’s painting of Dolbadarn Castle in Wales. It concentrates, quite successfully, less on the impressionistic and atmospheric aspects of the subject matter, as Turner had done; more on the way the structure of the building and scene could be ‘mapped’ onto chords and variations thereof in the music. It works well.
Mapping Wales is also based on variations. Eleanor Turner’s harp complements the Solstice Quartet’s loving yet not sentimental style. Tender, indeed. The fact that Metcalf later arranged an expanded version of the piece for small string orchestra attests to its richness.
The CD begins with Metcalf’s Septet for harp, flute, clarinet and strings. Again chordal writing underlines the piece, which is an elegy in honour of parents generally Metcalf was asked to write a piece in memory of the parents of the commissioner, Antony Grew, David and Ann. ‘DG’ and ‘AG’ are ‘encrypted’ in the septet. But this is incidental: the work stands by its melodic invention and gentle tonalities.
The playing of the soloists is clean and convincing; Philippa Davies’ flute is particularly penetrating. The two string quartets also work within the idiom of this sensitive but not sentimental music. The recordings direct our attention to the music by benefiting from a close and homely acoustic. The booklet contains useful information, musical and biographical. All in all a good introduction to John Metcalf, whose work is not otherwise well represented in the current catalogue. Signum is to be congratulated for putting this right with a pleasing release of music that has immediate appeal but which also repays repeated listening.