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A Modern Ecstasy for sop, bar and orchestra (1986) 43.57
Cello Concerto (1984) 26.57
Nigel Leeson-Williams (bar)
Patricia Boylan (sop)
Roman Jablonski (cello)
CSR Symphony Orchestra/Richard Bernas
rec Bratislava, 8-13 April 1991
CONTINUUM CCD 1033  [71.04]
Amazon UK

If you must have a reference point then in these works, especially in A Modern Ecstasy, Britten is the dominant. In fact the War Requiem may be taken as a fellow traveller for this work. The hammer-head storm clouds rumble and darken the Cresswell in much the same way. This music speaks of lyricism in fragmentation and tunes under dissection. All the elements of song are present but sabre-cut and melted into something rich and strange. You may have to face a degree of repugnance generated by tough music but it is self-evidently music of the heart rather than of the calculator. The words are by Patrick Maguire and the subject could hardly be more serious: war and the lunacy and sadness of conflict. The last time I was confronted by anything of this gristle and poignancy was when I heard Benjamin Lees' Symphony No. 4 Memorial Candles (Naxos). The music can be as saw-toothed (The War) as it is tender (Prayer to Amar). For the most part it is abrupt and dances as if with the experience of the charnel and the battle-field. The baritone is sturdy of tone; the soprano not as steady as we might hope but nevertheless focusing considerable passion into the words. Only in the long Battle movement did I wonder if the musicians' grip on this powerful music had slackened.

I detect a Hassidic contour to the concerto. It sings less in abandon and more in pity and in sorrow. The heart of Bloch's Schelomo beats through this work but in modernised dress. Jablonski will be well enough known in some quarters for his performances of the Lutoslawski and (if I recall correctly) the Penderecki. The accent and the paraphernalia are of the less extreme 1970s avant-garde but even so it is tougher deal than the vocal work. I was haunted for some time after hearing it wondering why it seemed so familiar. Finally it came to me. This music has the passion and probingly lugubrious scowl of the symphonies of Allan Pettersson. The conviction of Jablonski and all involved is patent. A modern classic to my mind the superior of the Britten Cello Symphony; closer in mien to Bridge's Oration. It did not at all surprise e to hear that Alexander Baillie had premiered the work both he and Cresswell were fortunate indeed.

Two works of unimpeachable power and undeniably genuine feeling. Do not look for frivolity or relief from angst. This music stares into the Void and does not blink.

Rob Barnett


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