Paths of Song

£12.00

 Paths of Song is a new collection of works by leading Welsh contemporary composer John Metcalf. They explore a variety of engaging themes and ideas, with the works Paths of Song and Mapping Wales based on concepts of travel and journey in and around the composer’s homeland.

As well as contributions from a number of talented performers and ensembles, these works feature a key role for harpist Eleanor Turner (soloist and member of 4 girls 4 harps), who provides some truly standout performances.

This is Signum’s second release with composer John Metcalf – following 2007’s In Time of Daffodils with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales (SIGCD103).

"I have to concede it’s difficult not to be charmed … The strength of Metcalf’s score lies in its horse-sure sense of shaping over an extended, one-movement span and his creative handling of the orchestra …” Gramophone 

SKU: SIGCD203

What people are saying

“ … the music is lyrical, melodic, good-natured and benign. That might suggest it’s all charm without challenge, but it would be a mistake to assume that. There is some really fine, accessible writing here.”

The Observer

   

“Benefiting from an agile and assured performance by harpist Eleanor Turner, who shines throughout the recording, Metcalf’s lyricism is at its most expressive when such musical journeys are heard to return home”

The Gramophone

Eleanor Turner, harp

Nicola Thomas, cello

David Campbell, clarinet

Philippa Davies, flute

The Solstice Quartet

The Sacconi Quartet

Release date:23rd Aug 2010
Order code:SIGCD203
Barcode: 635212020326

  1. Septet: Semplice e liberamente – – 0.52
  2. Septet: Scherzo – – 2.18
  3. Septet: Calmo – – 5.51
  4. Septet: Largamente – – 2.54
  5. Septet: Semplice e liberamente – – 1.18
  6. Llwybrau C?n (Paths of Song) – – 19.17
  7. Castell Dolbadarn – – 7.14
  8. Mapping Wales – – 17.05

 The Observer, Sunday 3rd October 2010

Landscape and the spiritual elements of journeying inform much of the music of John Metcalf, particularly the hills and valleys of his native Wales, both literally and when reinterpreted by painters. Paths of Song is a continuous piece for string quartet in five sections, each taken at a walking pace. As with Mapping Wales and Septet, also recorded here, the music is lyrical, melodic, good-natured and benign. That might suggest it’s all charm without challenge, but it would be a mistake to assume that. There is some really fine, accessible writing here.

Stephen Pritchard

 

The Gramophone, Christmas 2010 issue

There’s an innate lyrical quality to the music of Welsh composer John Metcalf, often harnessed to particularly effective ends in works of a reflective, sometimes nostalgic nature. The Septet, scored for harp, flute, clarinet and strings, which opens this disc, lends itself well to such lyricism. Commissioned by Antony Griew – a man who has worked tirelessly to promote young composers in Wales – in memory of his parents, the work exudes a warm, radiant glow from the simple hymn-like statement at the beginning to its quietly affirmative reintroduction at the end.

These song-like characteristics are at their most effective when combined with another recurring Metcalf theme, that of travelling and journeying. The travel trope appears in both figural and literal forms here – from the subject matter of certain compositions to matters of musical style and figuration – often imparting a sense of static movement or stirring stillness to Metcalf’s music. While this approach may lead to modal meandering at times, as in the quasi-programmatic Castell Dolbadarn ("Dolbadarn Castle"), or a somewhat unsettling sense of deja vu in the Septet (which appears to be too closely modelled on the title track, Llwybrau Gin), it also gives rise to some truly moving and uplifting moments. In Mapping Wales, which closes the disc, such yearning reflection yields to a powerful chorale-like theme, providing the work with a much stronger sense of goal direction. Benefiting from an agile and assured performance by harpist Eleanor Turner, who shines throughout the recording, Metcalf’s lyricism is at its most expressive when such musical journeys are heard to return home.

Pwyll ap Sion

 

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.

Mark Sealey