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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


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RECORDING OF THE MONTH



Lyell CRESSWELL (born 1944)

Whira (1996)
Atta (1993)
Anake (1998)
Acquerello (1998)
Variations on a Theme by Charles Ives (1987)

The Hebrides Ensemble (Daniel Bell, violin; William Conway, cello; Rosemary Eliot, flute; Peter Evans, piano)
Recorded : Reid Hall, Edinburgh University, December 2000
NMC D 077 [73:20]


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So far, Lyell Cresswell may be better known for his large-scale orchestral works including several substantial concertos, such as his Cello Concerto or his accordion concerto Dragspil, some of which have been available in commercial recordings (CONTINUUM CCD 1033 review and CCD 1034). However, these recordings seem to be no longer available at the time of writing, so that the present release is the only one so far devoted to Cresswell’s music. This generous CD is the more welcome in that it consists entirely of chamber works, all but one for solo instruments. It thus usefully complements the CONTINUUM CDs in providing a well-planned survey of Cresswell’s recent chamber music. (All, with the exception of the Variations on a Theme by Charles Ives, were composed over the last ten years or so.)

Whira (Maori for "violin") for solo violin was completed in 1996. This substantial work consists of seven short contrasted sections, each exploiting either a technical or expressive facet of the instrument without ever resorting to empty virtuosity to make its point. According to the composer, sections 3 to 5 form a lighter middle section. (Section 5 Burla was written as a tribute to the late Douglas Lilburn on his 80th birthday.)

Cresswell wrote Atta for solo cello in 1993 for the opening of an exhibition of the work of the Italian painter Maurizio Bottarelli (a painting of his adequately adorns the cover of this CD). As with the preceding work, Atta is in eight short sections ("atta" is Old Norse for "eight"), each one evoking some aspects of Bottarelli’s paintings through a different approach of cello technique. The whole is another work of substance, again eschewing virtuosity for its own sake. For Cresswell, expression is of paramount importance and it is achieved by a huge variety of means while avoiding any trendy "tricks and gimmicks".

Anake (1998), which gives the present release its collective title ("anake" is Maori for "alone"), is quite similar to the other pieces. Three short movements: the opening section contrasts fragmentary ideas with slower melodic lines. The second section is a type of Scherzo and the piece ends with a beautifully moving lament inspired by a line from Frederico Garcia Lorca’s Llanto por Ignacio Sanchez Mejias.

These three pieces called to mind, for the present writer, Jolivet’s masterpieces for solo instruments such as Incantations (flute), Ascèses (viola or clarinet) and Suite Rhapsodique (solo violin), and I am glad to say that they compare quite favourably with these wonderful pieces.

Acquerello, also dating from 1998, is a beautifully evocative miniature for piano which should become highly popular and which is ideally suited as an encore.

Cresswell recalls that, as a schoolboy, he was attracted by Ives’ music, especially the "crazy mixture of hymn tunes, camp-meeting songs, marching bands and so on". His Variations on a Theme by Charles Ives for flute and cello, completed in 1987, are based on Ives’ song Songs my Mother taught Me. The statement of Ives’ simple tune is followed by twelve short, mainly nostalgic variations. Cresswell quite rightly avoided any attempt at mimicking Ives’ music so that the Variations sound as an affectionate and deeply-felt tribute to the older composer.

This is a really superb release: wonderful music, of great communicative power, in carefully and lovingly prepared performances by dedicated players who all have the full measure of the music. I hope that it will lead to more recordings of Cresswell’s well-crafted and expressive music.

Hubert CULOT


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