Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:

Sally BEAMISH (b. 1956)
Viola Concerto (1995) * [19.19]
Cello Concerto 'River' (1997) ** [22.01]
Tam Lin for Oboe & Orchestra (1993) *** [21.46]
*Philip Dukes (viola)
** Robert Cohen (cello)
*** Gordon Hunt (oboe)
Swedish Chamber Orchestra/Ola Rudner
Recorded: * and *** May 1999; ** August 1998
BIS-CD-971 [64.17]
  AmazonUK   AmazonUS

As we all know, crime doesn't pay. Perhaps just occasionally, however, it produces some unexpected benefits. Though Sally Beamish had written music from an early age she was pursuing a career as an orchestral violist until 1989 when her instrument was stolen. This, apparently, was the event which finally prompted her to concentrate on composition, to good effect to judge by the contents of this CD.

The three concertante works on this disc, all receiving their first recordings, evince a distinctive and strong musical personality. All have extra-musical associations. The Viola Concerto was inspired by Peter's denial of Christ; the Cello concerto is a response to an eponymous collection of poems by Ted Hughes; Tam Lin is based on an old Scottish ballad. Both the cello and viola concerti are here played by the soloists who commissioned them.

As befits the event which inspired it, the Viola Concerto is serious, not to say tragic, in tone. The music, which is in one continuous movement, is projected eloquently by both the soloist and the accomplished orchestra. The admirable notes provide helpful signposts as to what is being portrayed as the music unfolds.

The story of Peter's denial is a familiar one. However, I do not know the Ted Hughes poems to which Sally Beamish responds in the Cello Concerto. Perhaps for this reason I found this work more difficult to grasp at first hearing. It is cast in four short movements which are played without a break (sensibly, BIS provide a separate track for each). Once again, I found the notes helpful in appreciating the music. Like all the works on the disc River makes demands on the listener but the language is accessible and it is clear that the composer has something worthwhile to say. Although Miss Beamish challenges her audience she also communicates with them directly and vividly.

Tam Lin is much more lightly scored than its companion pieces. There are some fascinating effects of scoring and much of the music, such as the opening, is highly atmospheric. I did not find it particularly easy to relate the music to the story behind it but I'm not sure how much that matters; the work can still be appreciated as a piece of 'absolute' music. As in the other pieces here recorded, the composer exploits fully the lyrical qualities of the solo instrument.

BIS provide first rate sound. Though I have not seen any scores the performances sound authoritative and wholly convincing. All three soloists acquit themselves with distinction and the support from Ola Rudner and his Swedish players is exemplary. The composer must be delighted to receive such advocacy from both performers and record company alike.

Recommended to all collectors interested in contemporary British music.

John Quinn

See also review by Paul Conway

Return to Index

Reviews from previous months
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board.  Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.This is the only part of MusicWeb for which you will have to register.

You can purchase CDs, tickets and musician's accessories and Save around 22% with these retailers: