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Face to Face
Stephen PLEWS (b. 1961)
The Future of an Illusion [18:11]
Geoffrey KIMPTON (b. 1927)
Concerto for Violin and Chamber Orchestra (2000)a [23:02]
Kevin MALONE (b. 1958)
Eighteen Minutes (2002)b [19:42]
Andy Long (violin)a; David Heyes; Dan Styffe (double bass)b;
New World Ensemble/Alan Cuckston, Kevin Malone
rec. United Reformed Church, Macclesfield, May 2006
CAMPION CAMEO 2049 [62:55]

Stephen Plews describes The Future of an Illusion as “an existential biography of an imaginary soul, from birth to death through a terminal illness”. It is laid-out into three movements : Benign, Malignant, The Possibility of Hope. The first movement opens with a weary, repetitive gesture that never really develops. It leads into a varied movement, in which some thematic material attempts to assert itself but with little success. The main mood of the whole movement is rather hesitant. Some melodic flights manage to brighten the prevailing mood, albeit episodically. There follows what may be regarded as the slow movement. The mood here is of sorrow and sadness, and the music “occasionally fades to almost nothing”. This movement is one of the most moving musical elegies that I have ever heard. Although it opens with some energy, the final movement fails to bring complete solace – all fully in accordance with its title “The Possibility of Hope”. Nevertheless this serves to relieve some of the tension accumulated in the course of the preceding movements. The composer’s rather factual notes do not entirely conceal an intimate, personal concern. This substantial work, beautifully scored for strings, is undoubtedly a deeply sincere utterance that I find quite moving.

The rather sketchy notes mention that Geoffrey Kimpton’s Concerto for Violin and Chamber Orchestra was composed as a tribute to Kathleen Raine. He had set some of her verse several years earlier. The Concerto is based on one of Raine’s poems, The Summit. The notes tell us that each of the five movements has a title using words and phrases from the poem. Unfortunately, neither the poem nor the title of the movements are printed in the insert notes. Much is left to our imagination and the music is left to be assessed for its intrinsic worth. In this respect, Kimpton’s concerto is a quite attractive, beautifully crafted piece, nicely contrasted and richly, yet often subtly poetic. The scoring for small orchestra - actually a wind quintet and a string quintet - is superbly done and quite imaginative, albeit in a fairly traditional way, by 20th century standards.

Kevin Malone (www.opusmalone.com) composed two pieces inspired by the events of September 11, 2001: Vox humana, Vox populi for bassoon and orchestra and Eighteen Minutes for two double basses and strings, the latter recorded here. The insert notes go into some detail about the way the piece is structured. It is in eighteen sections divided into six equal parts. In fact, the number 18 seems to play a considerable role in the structure. Moreover some of the ‘thematic’ material is drawn from words and phrases from witnesses and from radio broadcasters. “Most of the material directly follows the actual speed and sound of the voices”. Don’t let all this put any of you off. It is an impressive and entirely satisfying work. Some of the music may be slightly minimalist, but rather more like John Adams than Steve Reich. The composer brilliantly succeeds in varying his textures and in having the music move forward instead of simply repeating itself. I find this brilliantly realised piece entirely successful. In its conception and duration, it may seem less imposing than John Adams’ The Transmigration of Souls, but it undoubtedly is far more impressive in its relative concision. There are not that many concertos for two double basses; I have just reviewed Haukur Tómasson’s Skíma, another entirely satisfying concerto for two double basses. This one should be avidly taken-up by imaginative players looking for a worthy work for their instrument.

All performances are as far as I can judge beautifully done. Certainly they seem strongly committed and the recording is very fine. My sole complaint is that the insert notes do not always tell you what you need. This should not however deter anyone from investigating this unusual but highly rewarding release.

Hubert Culot


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