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Various composers Song of the Black Swan   Lowri Blake, cello & Hugh Webb, harp LOWRI RECORDS - LOWRI 2001 [55:39]

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Villa-Lobos: Song of the Black Swan, Ravel: Piece en forme de Habanera, Martinu: Arabesque no. 6, de Falla: Canciones populares espanolas, Castelnuovo-Tedesco: Sea Murmurs, Elgar: Chanson de Matin & Salut d'Amour, Debussy: Beau Soir, Saint-Saëns: The Swan, Fauré: Berceuse op. 16 & Sicilienne op. 78, Ketèlby: The Phantom Melody, Gershwin: Prelude no. 2, Berkeley: Andantino, Bantock: Hamabdil, Tchaikovsky: Valse Sentimentale, Van Goens: Scherzo op.12

This album continues an on-going collaboration between cellist, Lowri Blake, and harpist, Hugh Webb. As Lowri Blake points out, there is comparatively little repertoire for this instrumental combination, such that this album necessarily relies heavily on arrangements of works written for other forces. There seems little point in discussing the validity of this; musicians and composers have been re-arranging each other's work for as long as there has been music, only in deciding if a particular set of arrangements is worthwhile. Here the answer must be a resounding yes, for Song of the Black Swan is a captivating anthology.

Packaged in a gatefold card sleeve, and thus resembling a miniature LP, the album immediately stands out. It is elegantly designed in an imperial purple, and features (as do all releases on Lowri records) a painting by Louise Blair. The sleeve is actually divided into three sections, with the CD residing in the central partition when not in use. I am not sure about the durability of this, as it requires rather more nimbleness than usual to remove and replace the disc without tearing or otherwise damaging the sleeve. The packaging is attractive, but I doubt it will survive all but most careful owners.

One further point, before praising the recording itself. The notes on the music are woefully lacking, offering comments only on two of the nineteen tracks, while also adding that only the title piece, by Villa-Lobos, and Hamabdil by Granville Bantock were originally written for cello and harp. There is considerably more information, not about the recording, but about Lowri Blake and the other artists on Lowri Records, on the website at, which may be just about acceptable if Lowri Records are only available through the website, but not if they are to be also sold through other outlets. Not everyone has access to the World Wide Web, and I really feel that some of this information should appear with the disc itself. Still, Lowri Records, launched in October this year, is a new venture, and there is time for things like this to improve.

For those who don't know, and to quote the website: "Lowri Blake has a dual career as a solo cellist and as a singer of contemporary music and cabaret. Since her televised concerto debut with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Lowri has broadcast over one hundred recitals and concertos on BBC Radio and Television… She has appeared with the London Philharmonic Orchestra in performances of the Elgar Concerto, conducted by Matthias Bamert, at the Royal Festival Hall in London…. Lowri is professor of cello at Trinity College of Music and at the Royal College of Music, London and gives masterclasses nationwide and abroad."

Hugh Webb meanwhile is the composer of The Snow Queen and active as a classical, contemporary and jazz harpist, active in film, television and popular music.

The recording offers 19 miniatures, some of which will inevitably be more familiar than others. My personal favourite must be Martinu's beguiling Arabesque no. 6, clearly a favourite with Ms Blake too, who rightly calls it a "little gem". Villa-Lobos The Song of the Black Swan has the elegant long lines of the bird, magnificently preening its feathers. Very notable in this new guise, are two familiar piano pieces by Fauré, Berceuse op. 16 and Sicilienne op. 78. Elgar's Chanson de Matin also has great appeal - you may be interested in Lowri Blake's transcription of Elgar's violin Sonata in E minor for cello, recorded on Lowri Records release Lowri 2000. The pieces which may be less melodically striking are still enchanting, transported by the sheer dream-like beauty of the almost magical sound-world created by the fine interplay of cello and harp - even when the cello seems to dominate, these are genuine duets, conversations between players and instruments. Through this dialogue, come performances both melodically sensitive and deeply atmospheric. Complimenting the musicianship, the acoustic is perfect, lending the music that wonderfully English warmth which so characterises releases on the Chandos label.

This is good music, not musical wallpaper, yet it is also an album to relax into, to drift (swanlike?) through. If it were not a dirty term, and a contradiction, this release might be labelled New Age classical, though don't let that put you off. From whatever angle this album is approached, it is a delightful collection.


Gary S. Dalkin


Gary S. Dalkin

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