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ABRSM publications

ABRSM (Publishing) Ltd
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Spectrum for Cello - Sixteen Contemporary Pieces
Param VIR (b. 1952)

angel blue

Hilary TANN (b. 1947)

Lullaby

Giles SWAYNE (b. 1946)

Spooky Song

John METCALF (b. 1946)

Continuous Study

Sally BEAMISH (b. 1956)

Still Life

Rhian SAMUEL (b. 1944)

Tin Soldier

Jonathan DOVE (b. 1959)

Prayer-wheel

Philip FLOOD (b. 1964)

Friday to Sunday

Alissa FIRSOVA (b. 1986)

The Stonebreaker

Jonathan COLE (b. 1970)

Elegy

Gavin BRYARS (b. 1943)

With Miriam by the River

Steve MARTLAND (b. 1959)

Sarabande

Richard CAUSTON (b. 1971)

Lunar

Nicola LeFANU (b. 1947)

Prelude

Rebecca SAUNDERS (b. 1967)

Song

Kenneth HESKETH (b. 1968)

Cantilena

William Bruce (cello)
Thalia Myers (piano)
The Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM Publishing) DDD
ABRSM PUBLISHING -ISBN: 186096 373 0 [31:01]

 

In the wake of Thalia Myersí fascinating and innovative three volumes of Spectrum for piano1&2 Spectrum 3 it was always to be hoped that the Associated Board would eventually be in a position to repeat the exercise for other instruments. The fact that this has now come to fruition is therefore to be applauded in every way.

The lucky instrumentalists to benefit from the latest volume are cellists. The principle of the Spectrum project remains the same: namely to commission composers born or resident in the United Kingdom to write a brief piece of around one and a half minutes duration. The compositions must be true to each composerís stylistic instincts but suitable for performance by young and amateur musicians. In line with the Associated Board syllabus the pieces are conventionally graded from 1-8 and are designed to be introduced to the player as and when their abilities allow. The complete album is simply but effectively packaged with the compact disc, allowing players to listen whilst hopefully engaging their own interpretative instincts.

As with the original piano volumes the task for the composer is no mean feat. Coming up with a fully formed piece intended to be no more than two sides of A4 is a challenge in itself. Most of the composers achieve this with a notable degree of success although Gavin Bryars runs to over three and a half minutes. It is interesting to note that the large majority of pieces are contemplative or lyrical in style, a reaction possibly to the difficulty in creating a satisfying whole within the restrictions of the permitted time parameters. The real contrasts however come in the stylistic mix of the composers who represent everything from unashamed tonality and fringe minimalism via atonality to the borders of experimentation and extended technique; the latter from Rebecca Saunders.

Arranged on the album in order of difficulty, the first work is by Indian-born Param Vir, an enigmatic miniature that allows the instrument to sing before subsiding to a mysterious ending. Hilary Tannís touching Lullaby is one of only two unaccompanied pieces (the other being by Nicola Le Fanu) and is again lyrical, introducing basic harmonics and pizzicato in the closing bars. Giles Swayne provides one of the more imaginative pieces in his entertaining Spooky Song and successfully manages to incorporate a wide range of moods and styles within one and a half minutes span. John Metcalfís attractive Continuous Study delights in quasi minimalist syncopations and true to its title does not allow the soloist one single rest during its fleeting duration. Sally Beamishís Still Life is beautifully atmospheric, the cellistís haunting melodic line set against florid, questioning semi-quavers in the piano part. The march of Rhian Samuelís Tin Soldier is not quite what it seems, starting innocently but pitting soloist against piano in irregular contrast with some deceptively tricky triplet rhythms for the cellist mid-way through. Jonathan Doveís aptly titled Prayer-Wheel (to be played "with quiet fervour") is a hypnotically beautiful study in shifting quaver rhythmic patterns. Irishman Philip Floodís Friday to Sunday, which the composer describes as "a hectic rush through the weekend", is one of the only pieces that employs a comparatively brisk tempo, albeit with a contrasting lyrical passage at its centre. At eighteen years of age, Alissa Firsova has the distinction of being the youngest composer represented although her background is a notable one, being the daughter of composers Elena Firsova and Dmitri Smirnov. The Stonebreaker is inspired by a painting by the Pre-Raphaelite Henry Wallis and interestingly portrays the composerís Russian lineage in its profoundly serious atmosphere. Jonathan Coleís deeply-felt Elegy is a clearly personal and moving utterance and Gavin Bryars is similarly heartfelt in his With Miriam by the River, a reminiscence of days spent with his mother, an amateur cellist whose house stood alongside the river Ouse in Yorkshire. Steve Martland takes the ancient dance form of the Sarabande and weaves an expressively singing cello line over stately piano chords. The other-worldly sounds of Richard Caustonís imaginative and striking Lunar are one of the more immediately contemporary sounding contributions of any of the composers represented. Nicola LeFanuís unaccompanied Prelude takes its inspiration from a passage by Emily Dickinson. Rebecca Saundersís deceptively and disarmingly entitled Song employs clusters in the piano part as well as a range of effects for the soloist. In fitting conclusion, Cantilena by Kenneth Hesketh is impressively complete in its miniature structure and beautifully realised, the impassioned cello line being almost Bergian in its expression and leaving a lingering impression.

William Bruce, ably and appropriately accompanied by Thalia Myers, gives pleasing performances of all sixteen works and there can be nothing but praise for their role in advancing the Spectrum project still further. The musical horizons of both young and older pianists alike must already have been broadened considerably by the initial three volumes of piano pieces and it is only to be hoped that the project will now continue for other instruments with all possible momentum.

Christopher Thomas



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