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.