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Sally BEAMISH (b. 1956)
Bridging the Day Works for cello and piano

Gala Water (1994) for cello solo
Bridging the Day (1998) for cello and piano
Entre Chien et Loup (1979) for piano solo
Lullaby for Owain (1985) for piano solo
Kyle Song (1993) for piano solo
Iasg (1993) for cello and piano
The Wise Maid (2000) for cello solo
Sonata for Cello and Piano (1999-2000)
Robert Irvine (cello) Sally Beamish (piano)
Recorded August 2000 at Danderyd Grammar School, Sweden DDD
BIS BIS-CD-1171 [63:55]


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This interesting anthology of music for cello and piano (the instruments figure both in partnership and individually) "bridges" not only twenty-one years of Beamish’s career but also her move, around ten years ago, to Scotland, a change that was to have a major impact on her music. It is no coincidence that the cello plays a significant part in her impressively prolific output, as the soloist here Robert Irvine, happens to be the composer’s husband. Many of the works therefore have highly personal connotations, a fact that comes across clearly in the intimacy of the performances.

The earliest work represented, the miniature Entre Chien et Loup, dates from Beamish’s student years and reflects a self confessed fascination with the music of Webern and Luigi Dallapiccola. Lullaby for Owain, written six years later for a friend following her giving birth to a baby with Down’s syndrome (an issue close to the composer’s heart as her own brother has Down’s syndrome) shares the same sound-world. Neither piece, whilst articulate in realisation, is truly representative of Beamish’s mature language. The other piano miniature, Kyle Song is far more effective, described by the composer as a "boat song" and inspired by a friend’s love of sailing on the Kyle of Lochalsh. In complete contrast The Wise Maid was conceived as an unaccompanied encore for her husband and takes great fun in weaving a tiny set of variations on an Irish fiddle tune into a deceptively virtuosic little showpiece.

The four more substantial works on the disc all date from the mid to late 1990s (the Sonata was only completed last year) and in differing ways reflect the growing influence on the composer of Scottish folksong as well as jazz. Anyone who is familiar with the previous BIS release of Beamish’s music featuring the fine saxophone concerto, The Imagined Sound of Sun on Stone, will be in recognisable territory here. The folksong influence is most prevalent in Gala Water, a beautiful, highly lyrical outpouring based on the tune Braw Braw Lads of Gala Water, and made all the more poignant by the composer’s explanation, in the booklet notes, that it was written as an expression of grief at the loss of a baby by miscarriage. The work that lends its title to the disc, Bridging the Day, was inspired by the surroundings of Brook Cottage, the home of the friends who commissioned the work. It explores the different aspects of light across the valley where the cottage lies, taking the listener from daybreak through the "morning shimmer" of the sun and afternoon by the brook to sundown. Again, Beamish makes fine use of the lyricism of the cello and in the melodic structure of the work, manages cleverly to create the feeling of time passing through the day. It is a piece that I found quite magical in its atmosphere.

Iasg (the Gaelic for fish and pronounced "eesk") is perhaps the grittiest in its language. However once again there is a strong lyricism that lies at the heart of the piece. The journey here is that of a salmon, from its birth in a mountain stream to its final struggle in reaching its birthplace to die. The slower central section depicts the long period of feeding in the open sea. As in Bridging the Day Beamish is impressive in her ability to weave a convincing, strongly cogent single movement span. Beamish’s recent Prom commission, Knotgrass Elegy draws on a wide variety of stylistic influences with jazz playing a major part. In similar vein, the four movement Sonata for cello and piano (presumably written around the same time as Knotgrass) is the most overtly jazz-influenced of the works on this disc although the influence is always carefully disseminated within the composer’s own very personal language. Each movement forms a musical portrait, of the composer herself, her husband and the two close friends who commissioned the work. It bares the stamp of jazz both rhythmically and melodically, most obviously in the second movement scherzo with its echoes of Thelonius Monk. The haunting simplicity of the slow movement Ballad is exceptionally beautiful and Irvine responds with playing of moving tenderness.

The intimate nature and understanding of these performances is evident throughout in Robert Irvine’s passionately committed playing, the composer providing able accompaniment. There are occasions when for my taste the cello should be a little more forward in the balance but overall the sound is good, with a natural and realistic acoustic. A warmly recommended disc which should make many new friends for Sally Beamish’s distinctive and thoughtful music.

Christopher Thomas

 

 


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