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Mark-Anthony TURNAGE (born 1960)
Another Set To (2000)a
Silent Cities (1998)
Four-Horned Fandango (1995/6, rev. 2000)b
Fractured Lines (1999/2000)c
Evelyn Glennie, Peter Erskine (percussion)c; Christian Lindberg (trombone)a; Timothy Brown, Michael Murray, Andrew Antcliff, Christopher Larkin (horn)b; BBC Symphony Orchestra; Leonard Slatkin
Recorded: Walthamstow Assembly Hall, July 2002
CHANDOS CHAN 10018 [56:25]


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Turnage’s music has often been described as "violent" and "jazz-influenced". These descriptions – as is often the case – have more than a grain of truth about them although they do not reflect the multifarious nature of his music. His orchestral music is often rhythmically energetic and full of dynamic contrasts, but his chamber music, some of which has been recorded some time ago on Black Box BBM 1065 (reviewed a few months ago), is more restrained and shows the private man as opposed to the public man at work in the orchestral works and the operas. The four recent pieces recorded here partly belie the ready-made description alluded to above. Four-Horned Fandango, composed in 1995/6 and revised in 2000, is a work in which Turnage demonstrates the wide variety of his emotional and compositional palette. This really beautiful work is probably one of his most sensuous and most accessible scores. It opens with soft strings, somewhat reminiscent of the opening of Ravel’s La Valse, setting the scene for the exultant music for horn quartet (one thinks here of Tippett who was such an influence on Turnage’s music making). The whole piece overflows with joyfully dancing energy which makes this sunny, extroverted work a joy to listen to.

Another Set To for trombone and orchestra, superlatively played by Christian Lindberg, is overtly influenced by jazz. Again this displays a healthy energy characteristic of Turnage’s finest music. It opens with a braying call to arms before the music launches an unbridled dance of tremendous verve supported by jagged rhythms from the orchestra. A brief restatement of the opening call leads into a dazzling, sparkling conclusion.

Silent Cities is Kipling’s description of the graveyards on the Somme which Turnage visited in 1997. The sites’ apparent peacefulness, however, does not conceal "the turmoil under the surface". At another level it is difficult to relate to the massacres of World War I that took place on these very sites. That Turnage might have been moved to translate his inner feelings into music is no surprise. One of the earliest works to attract attention was his piece for chamber ensemble Let Us Sleep Now (i.e. the last words from Owen’s poem Strange Meeting and from Britten’s War Requiem). Thus, Silent Cities continually alternates dream-like, almost pastoral episodes with violent, war-like outbursts of great power. It builds to some fierce and shattering climaxes. The piece ends with an ambiguous epilogue, "all passion spent", though unable to "dispel the fears". Silent Cities is, no doubt, one of his most personal, powerfully impressive and deeply moving utterances so far.

Paul Scofield who provided the "theme" for Silent Cities and Peter Erskine, one of the percussionists in Fractured Lines, are both musicians with whom Turnage has previously co-operated e.g. in his gripping ensemble piece Blood on the Floor. Fractured Lines, composed in 1999/2000, is a double percussion concerto for Evelyn Glennie and Peter Erskine who also provided the tune on which the piece is based. As a whole, it is a formidable display of often virtuosic writing for percussion and of brilliantly scored music. It is also overtly jazzy, but always in Turnage’s highly personal approach. In fact, his music may often be jazz-inflected, but it never slavishly mimics jazz clichés; rather it absorbs and transforms jazz elements into a personal vision achieved in imaginative, gripping music of not inconsiderable strength. However, I found Fractured Lines marginally less satisfying than the other works, but it is still a formidable piece of music in its own right.

Superlative performances and superb recording up to Chandos’s best. I enjoyed this release enormously and I am eagerly waiting for any new recording of Turnage’s music.

Hubert Culot

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