name makes a confident appearance. Perhaps
you have heard of Beth Anderson. I hadn't.
I was pleased, though, to be introduced
to this Schubertian music which surprises
by its fidelity to the Olympian style
and then startles with its modernistic
As you can see she
favours a ‘form’ or ‘idea’ she calls
the ‘Swale’. According to my dictionary
a Swale is a shady spot, a sunken or
marshy place. Anderson uses the word
in the sense of a meadow or marsh in
which many plants grow together. Both
the music and the idea recall for me
the image of Warlock’s In an arbour
green or perhaps some sun and shade
dappled intimate clearing in the woods
- a haunt of classical figures - nymphs,
satyrs, fauns and hamadryads.
The March Swale
takes us into the warm and pensive
lambency of the Schubert String Quintet
yet twists ideas and phrases in unusual
directions; perhaps a touch of Rochberg
and even Crumb here. The Pennyroyal
Swale is English idyllic yet
mixes in Appalachian fiddling. Listen
out for the blissful Dvorakian bowing
at 2.39. Anderson also brings in music
that might have been written by Howells
or RVW in their sunniest moods - from
The New Mexico
Swale moves us into a larger
span of music. The character is marked
out by the presence of percussion interjections
throughout. Some are clamant; many are
subtle. This is a very different piece
from the other two Swales. Intended
to evoke the lonely deserts of that
State, her typical Schubertian lyricism
is mixed with native Indian dance rhythms
punctuated by percussion.
For track four we come
to The Angel which is
a song whose words follow the Hans Christian
Andersen story of the same name. The
blessedly gentle Schubertian melos (by
now clearly an Anderson hallmark) is
sometimes modified by modernistic gestures
and Tchaikovskian highlights, but more
often pretty much unalloyed. The Russian
flavour is touched in by the harp. This
spiritual melos provides a lush backdrop
to Jessica Marston's Steber-like youthful
clarity. The idyllic and extremely exposed
melisma of 4.00 onwards is poetically
handled by Marston even if a certain
hardness obtrudes as the voice comes
under greater pressure. The poem sets
sentimental verses by Antonio Calabrese.
Well worth hearing.
Then comes January
Swale in which the contemporary
accents that appear in March Swale
are absent. This represents
the heart-easing facility Beth Anderson
shares with Dvořák and Howells
without the almost erotic-ecstatic tendency
of Howells chamber music. Rosemary
Swale takes more towards Holst's
music for Brook Green and St
Paul - very direct and honest, singing
and rhythmically pointed.
The 1997 Piano Concerto
is for solo piano and six instrumental
players. It has the ingenuous naivety
of a sampler with Nyman's lyrical touch
(as in his own Piano Concerto). This
is all gently tuneful - even hymnal
as at 2.44. If at times I wondered about
how the percussion interjections melded
with the character of the rest of the
music the resulting tension does intrigue
and holds the interest. This is undemonstrative,
thoughtful and discursive in nature.
The piece ends in a buzzing Vaughan
Williamsy atmosphere resolving into
a momentary exquisite high gleam.
None of these pieces
scream at you or perturb in any obvious
way. They seem to be the voice of placid
invocation; passive, contented yet mind-engaging.
Appreciation of the
music is heightened by Kyle Gann's note.
The listener benefits from his wide
frame of reference and will come away
wondering about the music of other composers
as well as other pieces by Beth Anderson.
The Rubio who recently
recorded the complete Shostakovich quartets
for Brilliant Classics play feelingly
throughout as do all the artists involved.
This is a well-documented
disc, authoritatively produced and rather
warmly recorded but then warmth is characteristic
of this music.