> Timothy SULLIVAN Golden Fire [RB]: Classical Reviews- January 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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A Magic Casement
Two Pianos
A Soft and Golden Fire

Kathleen Brett (sop); Linda Maguire (mezzo); Stephen Ralls and Bruce Ubukata (pianos) (Magic Casement). Duo Turgeon (Two Pianos); Kathleen Brett (sop); Robert Cram (flute); Sanya Eng (harp).
rec 22-23 June, 5-6 Aug 2000, Church of St Mary Magdalene, Toronto

Timothy Sullivan is a contemporary Canadian composer who, while in sympathy with the no longer quite new trend of melody and tonality, bucks that trend, in the case of the first work, by setting poetry that is dissidently unfashionable.

It is a pleasure, unalloyed, to encounter soprano and mezzo twining their way through Dobell, Yeats, Tom Hood, Fiona Macleod, Keats and Noyes. These settings, under the title A Magic Casement, approach the mastery of Geoffrey Bush and Britten. The piano duo accompaniment never merely shadows the voice like a remora. Instead it provides a dreamy bell-carillon over and into which the voices disport like flying fish - diving, gliding, basking, dreaming. The stilly night captured in the Bugles of Dreamland is gloriously done and sustained, showing great mastery.

Two Pianos is hesitant, giving the impression of a voyage in inky depths, of finding one's way through mangroves and of blue unglaring moonlit vistas. Very much the atmosphere of Richard Rodney Bennett's Third Symphony. This is by no means as approachable a work as A Magic Casement. The music seems spare and volatile pitching into dissonant adventures (Part VII) and then finding expression through spicy rhythmic interplay (Part VIII) and jazzy sparks twisted of strands from Michael Nyman and Constant Lambert (Part IX).

The Joyce settings of A Soft and Golden Fire take us back to the Celtic otherworldliness of A Magic Casement but with the illustrative and musical devices of flute and harp in conspiracy. Rain's vivid dripping forest imagery, of love quietened by death, is expressively conjured. Linda Maguire's voice is well treated by the engineer except in one respect. When she sings the phrase My dove, my beautiful one and the word arise it is as if her voice has been turned from the microphone in order to dilute the volume. This softening of the vigour of the voice is unnecessary. I am not sure why it has been done. Fittingly the rippling instrumental backdrop is evocative of the tradition of Carolan.

The design of the disc insert rather nullifies the prime purpose of a leaflet for unfamiliar music by an unfamiliar composer. I wanted to find out more about the music and Sullivan but the font and background - the whole design concept - negates this. The print is all in upper case - always difficult to read. To exacerbate this problem the font has very slender risers. The background and font colours tread the wrong side of the contrast line being far too undifferentiated. The absence of small thoughtful details like listing titles against track numbers is an irritant. What is the point of something that looks stunning as an artefact and yet which does not pass information easily?

These collateral gripes aside, if you are susceptible to song settings by Britten, Geoffrey Bush and to the music of Michael Nyman, then these thoughtful, beautifully conceived and executed works will gladden the heart.

Rob Barnett




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