> Errollyn Wallen AV0006[RB]: Classical Reviews- May 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Errollyn WALLEN
Dervish for cello and piano
Are you worried about the rising cost of funerals? five simple songs for soprano and string quartet
Louis' Loops for toy piano
Horseplay for ensemble
In our lifetime for baritone and tape
The girl in my alphabet for two pianos
Matthew Sharp (cello); Dominic Harlan (piano) (Dervish)
Patricia Rosario (sop); David le Page (violin); Kirsty Staines (violin); David Aspin (viola); Joseph Spooner (cello); Philip Headlam (conductor) (Five Simple Songs)
Margaret Leng Tan (two toy pianos) (Louis' Loops)
Continuum Ensemble/Philip Headlam (Horseplay)
Mike Henry (bar) (In Our Lifetime)
Douglas Finch; Errollyn Wallen (pianos) (The Girl in My Alphabet)
rec Cowell Theatre, Fort Mason Centre, San Francisco, USA (Louis' Loops); March 1990, Wallen Music Centre, London (In Our Lifetime); 8-9 Oct 2001, Potton Hall, Suffolk, England; 25 March 1999
AVIE AV 0006 [70.11]

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Wallen is a child of the avant-garde who has softened its solipsism with a completely unformulaic, instinctive and inclusive approach. She quite naturally slips from style to style and idiom to idiom and does so in a completely uncontrived manner. Her motto for Ensemble X (her group) is "We don't break down barriers in music ... we don't see any." Her music reflects this testimony.

Dervish is a rhapsody which drifts smilingly and sourly from Schoenberg to Bloch (quite strongly I thought) to Tavener. It is not entirely the wild whirling torrent we might guess from the title; rather Wallen leads us from gloomy meditation (for some reason I was reminded of Shostakovich's Viola Sonata) to furious speed. The work's dedicatee is the composer, Jonathan Lloyd and it is played by the duo who commissioned the piece.

The deeply serious and emotional song cycle for operatic soprano, Rosario, was written in 1994. It is directly expressive with distinct voices out of spirituals, swing, blues and evincing the melodic melt of Tippett's Concerto for Double String Orchestra, A Child of Our Time and Third Symphony.

Wallen has used dance movements by Louis Couperin as well as fragments of nursery rhymes in Louis' Loops which is for two toy pianos. They have a tone which is like a tinkling marriage between harpsichord, celesta and xylophone.

Horseplay is a ballet for four male dancers. Ballet and music reflect various facets of the horse: darkness, speed, rocking, racing. As ever with Wallen (on the basis of these six works) rhythmic interest is strong. This is mixed with a conjured soundworld which reminds us of the Marseilles backstreets suggested by Constant Lambert's Piano Concerto, of gamelan, with Stravinskian pepper (Concerto for Two Pianos) and incursions from Michael Nyman. The work was commissioned by the Royal Ballet.

In Our Lifetime is a tribute to Nelson Mandela. The ANC song of defiance against Apartheid, Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika is woven into the music alongside Wallen's own words. The tape element, by the way, is used only to multi-track Mike Henry's fine and pliant baritone voice creating a full choral effect through multi-tracking at key moments.

The Girl in my Alphabet is a piano duo in which Stravinsky is crossed with Nancarrow. Grapeshot flies amid strafing ‘synco-pulsation’. The music also strolls along in one of those heart-melting saunters drawing on Sondheim at one side and Kapustin and Nyman on the other. After a thunderous piano blitzkrieg, in a coup that is almost Finzian, Wallen at the end frankly quotes The Girl from Ipanema. If you appreciate Cowell, Ornstein and jazz you will need to hear this.

The booklet's design values and legibility are mostly in harmony. The only real miscalculation is on the page with the notes for The Girl in my Alphabet. Here the words are printed black on dark blue. Why do they do it? Design subjugates information. However this is a single page in sixteen. The others are fine. Avie print the sung words in full. We would have benefited from more information about the composer. However the music's the thing and for those open to discovery and prepared to hear a brashly creative, open-minded composer striding with delighted abandon from jazz, to Schoenbergian negation, to Mediterranean mystery, to spirituals to the sort of lyric escape offered by early Tippett then you must get this disc.

Rob Barnett


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