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Mark-Anthony TURNAGE (b. 1960)
This Silence (1992/3) [15:35]
True Life Stories (1995/9)a [12:56]
Slide Stride (2002)b [13:02]
Two Baudelaire Songs (2004)c [10:23]
Eulogy (2003)d [9:56]
Two Vocalises (2002)e [5:40]
Cantilena (2001)f [10:45]
Sally Matthews (soprano)c; The Nash Ensemble; Ian Brown (piano)abe; Gareth Hulse (oboe)f; Lawrence Power (viola)d; Paul Watkins (cello)e; Lionel Friend
rec. Henry Wood Hall, London, October 2004
ONYX 4005 [78:34]



One of the most distinctive voices of present day British music, Mark-Anthony Turnage mainly made his mark - and still does - with his many substantial pieces for orchestra and ensemble as well as his operas. His far from negligible chamber music output should not be overlooked as some earlier discs (NMC D 024 M and Black Box BBM 1065, the latter reviewed here some time ago) amply demonstrate. The present release further confirms that Turnage’s chamber music, while clearly from the same pen as, say, Three Screaming Popes, Dispelling the Fears or Silent Cities sheds different light on his music and reveals a private, intimate music-making of great refinement and restraint. Often it displays warm lyricism, although pieces like A Quiet Life for strings - actually the third panel of the orchestral trilogy Studies and Elegies - and Silent Cities had already generously displayed Turnage’s lyrical gift.

True Life Stories for piano, composed between 1995 and 1999, consist of short sketches related to family members and friends. So, Elegy for Andy (a reworking of some material from the sixth movement of Blood on the Floor, Junior Addict in memory of his brother), William’s Pavane and Edward’s Refrain (dedicated to his two sons), Song for Sally (i.e. his then publisher Sally Groves) and Tune for Toru (originally a short tribute to Toru Takemitsu). None of these short, expressive pieces outstays its welcome, neither do the Two Vocalises for cello and piano, a shorter, simpler sequel to the somewhat earlier Sleep On.

In Slide Stride for piano quintet, Turnage wrote some more virtuosic stuff for piano to compensate , as it were, for the often deceptive simplicity of the True Life Stories. As in so many other pieces of his, Turnage pays tribute to Jazz and Blues without ever falling into parody or blunt imitation. It is not surprising that this piece is dedicated to Richard Rodney Bennett.

The somewhat earlier This Silence for small ensemble (clarinet, oboe, horn and string quintet) is in two clearly delineated movements Dance and Dirge. It contains some of his finest music.

Eulogy for viola and ensemble is a beautiful miniature viola concerto, in which the subtle scoring for small ensemble allows the viola to sing in total freedom in its most expressive register without being obscured by the accompaniment. As far as I am concerned, this is the finest work in this selection and a real minor masterpiece.

The Cantilena for oboe quintet is another little gem, a sort of song without words of perfect proportions. It develops almost effortlessly with remarkable inner logic, although as in all the other works here straightforward, unsentimental expression is paramount.

The most recent work here is Two Baudelaire Songs for soprano and seven players. This fully demonstrates Turnage’s lyrical gifts and the scoring beautifully responds to Baudelaire’s verbal imagery.

These performances by the Nash Ensemble, who are among Turnage’s staunchest champions (both the NMC and the Black Box discs feature the Nash Ensemble), cannot be bettered. All the soloists perform beautifully with conviction and commitment. Everyone here plays the music for all it is worth and is in tune with the intimate, personal music-making of Turnage’s chamber music. Without this facet our assessment of the composer’s achievement would be incomplete. Some have described Turnage’s music as brash (which it can be) or vulgar (which, to my mind, it never is). His chamber music is all subtlety and refinement. All in all, a splendid and highly rewarding release.

Hubert Culot


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