With this disc Paul Silverthorne triumphantly reinforces his position as
commissioner and executant of contemporary viola music. With the exception
of Lutyens all the composers here are still vigorously active - and Lutyens'
influence is reflected in two of her pupils, Saxton and Hawkins; most of
the composers are British.
The longest piece is the first, Richard Rodney Bennett's After Ariadne.
It demonstrates many of the qualities both Silverthorne and the viola encourage
- allusion, reflection, and things veiled, hidden and emergent. Though not
obviously in variation form Bennett unfolds his source - Monteverdi's madrigal
Lasciate mi morire - only at the end of his lament. Clearly
a model here must be Britten's Lachrymae. Both pieces share a sense
of revelation and unfolding, a final simplicity of utterance reached through
struggle - and if Bennett is not Britten's equal then at least his vision
shares something of the older composer's transcendence.
Saxton's piece shares qualities of depth of tone, a certain keening - in
his case specifically Jewish - and its fulfilment in a Rabbinic prayer, alluded
to earlier but emerging at the close as a kind of benediction. The viola
is well suited - tonally and expressively - to this kind of confidentiality
of utterance; throughout the disc composers respond to darker tone colours
and an element of fragility to produce works of searching depth. Thea Musgrave,
for example, speaks of her little piece's "peaceful contemplation" but this
belies its amplitude of expression, with a remarkable concentration of feeling
and thought in its four minutes. Anthony Payne's Amid the Winds of
Evening encompasses varying tempo and rhythmic features and shares with
other pieces on this disc the great gift of saying much in a short span of
time. John Woolrich, like Saxton and Bennett, turns to source material and
like Bennett he has turned to Monteverdi. O sia tranquillo is especially
hypnotic in its beauty. Colin Matthews' Oscuro is veiled, rocking,
fractious and lyrical and impresses with its compelling aloofness.
But all the works impress; from Lutyens' own piece, the most fearsomely difficult
with its agonizing quadrupal stopping, through Hawkins' dark explorations
of colour and feeling, MacRae's fascinating sonorities and finally Kampela
and Tienssu; the former aggressive and the latter exploring the journey from
taut rhythmic attack to benevolent silence.
From extreme technical demands to lyric simplicity, from tonal amplitude
to wisps of sound, Silverthorne and John Constable, the most responsive pianist,
emerge as worthy ambassadors of the contemporary literature in a disc of
which Black Box should take great pride.