Â CD News
(Extracts from a review of five discs)
Eclecticism tends to be regarded with greater suspicion on the Continent than in this country. Stylistic variety has become a significant feature of British music in recent years, and this is well illustrated by the following discs.
The four composers represented in the programme recorded by the Brunel Ensemble include Elizabeth Lutyens, whose centenary falls in 2006. The two works, separated by 30 years, suggest a preference for relatively small orchestras and demonstrate the consistency of her mature style. O Saison, o Chateaux, a setting of Arthur Rimbaud, for soprano and small orchestra, is characteristic of her lyrical impulse. The Six Bagatelles, for chamber orchestra, completed in 1976, but not discovered until the 1990s, combine the precision of Webern with a harmonic language indebted to Berg and Schoenberg.
Elizabeth Lutyens was a fine composition teacher, numbering Robert Saxton and Malcolm Williamson among her pupils. Saxton?s identity is immediately apparent in his brief Birthday Piece for Richard Rodney Bennett, for strings. It functions as an apt prelude to Elijah?s Violin, for chamber orchestra, one of Saxton?s most impressive pieces which does not quite amount to a concerto, though it incorporates a solo violin, in accordance with the title.
It is sometimes maintained that, in contrast to Bliss, Malcolm Williamson?s creative imagination began to falter after he became Master of the Queen?s Music. He seems to have missed some commission deadlines, but he was still producing powerful scores well into his sixties. His Seventh Symphony, for strings, was his last. It is undeniably traditional, yet it also encompasses a variety of styles. It certainly fits well into the large body of British music for strings. Likewise, John McCabe?s comparatively brief Red Leaves belongs to those works inspired by nature in general and forests in particular.
BBC Music Magazine
Performance **** Sound ****
On paper this looks a random assembly of disparate pieces, but proves instead to be an absorbing, even fascinating, collection of some splendid contemporary, and causelessly neglected no-longer-quite-contemporary works by British composers (plus one Australian). From the dramatic unisons of Robert Saxton’s unexpectedly weightyBirthday Piece for Richard Rodney Bennettto the marvellously varied writing of Malcolm Williamson’s late Seventh Symphony for strings, with its Macedonian dances and warmly elegiacAndante, there are continual surprises and satisfactions. The continuing strength of the lyric, broodingly pastoral post-Maw, post-Tippett tradition with its lush post-tonal harmony, hinted at in these works, seems to be affirmed by John McCabe’s title piece, inspired by the forests of New England in the Fall, and by the four movements of Saxton’s quasi-symphonic cycleElijah’s Violin, a work puzzlingly left unmentioned in Nicholas Williams’s booklet notes. Counterpoised to this is the fiercer, flintier modernist aesthetic of Elisabeth Lutyens, whose long-neglectedBagatellesnevertheless disclose a marmoreal grace within their expressionistic stance, and whose brief, ecstatic Rimbaud cantata,O saisons, Ã´ chÃ¢teux, stunningly sung by Teresa Cahill, is perhaps the highpoint of the entire disc. Throughout, the playing of the Brunel Ensemble is first-rate and totally committed; the resonant (perhaps too resonant) acoustic of All Hallows Church, Gospel Oak, gives this comparatively small ensemble a vibrant orchestral weight and presence. A valuable and distinctive release.