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Will AYTON (b. 1948)
A Reliquary for William Blake * [32:20]
Four Pieces from “Songs of the British Isles” [8:44]
Two settings of songs by Thomas Campion* [6:32]
Incantations [9:42]
“Rest sweet nymphs”* [4:30]
Fantasia on a theme of Henry Purcell [4:32]
Ballad of the Rosemary* [7:30]
Parthenia – A Consort of Viols (Beverly Au (bass viol); Lawrence Lipnik (tenor viol, recorders); Rosamund Morley (treble and tenor viols); Lisa Terry (tenor and bass viols); Alexandra Montano* (mezzo))
rec. June 2005, Grace Church, Nyack, New York
MSR CLASSICS MS1216 [74:01]

Will Ayton, the son of missionary parents, was born in Kansu in China and educated there, in Taiwan and in the United States. He teaches music and culture at Roger Williams University in Rhode Island. Although the very brief biographical note says that “he attempts to steal a few moments for his passions, early music and composition”, neither it nor the composer’s own notes give any indication of what other music he has written or of the dates of the pieces on this disc.
All of the music here is for a viol consort – the composer refers to it as an effort to put new wine into old bottles. This is by no means a new activity, but is one well worth attempting as a means of broadening the repertoire of groups otherwise concentrating on early music. Two of the items here – the Incantations and the Fantasia on a theme of Henry Purcell – are for viol consort, and the extracts from the “Songs of the British Isles” add a recorder. The remainder add a voice.
The largest work is the song cycle “A Reliquary for William Blake”. It sets six poems as songs and another six as spoken recitatives. In addition there are two purely instrumental movements. The composer’s keen interest in the poet is apparent in his notes which refer to the work as “ a homage, a deeply reverent bow to an artist, a humanist, and a mystic – a man of many dimensions”. I fail, however, to see that Ayton’s settings add anything significant to the texts, neither do the latter appear have encouraged the kind of specific musical response to each text that one might have expected. Indeed the most striking moments are purely instrumental. This may be due in part to the very dour and uninflected singing of Alexandra Montano, who makes little of the words, and whose presentation of the spoken sections is only understandable with the text to hand. This may be mainly the fault of the setting, although I could imagine a more committed performance making much more of the poet’s wonderfully compelling aphorisms. Overall however all too often the music seems to subside into a kind of grayness, lacking the kind of vivid response to Blake’s words that such different composers as Britten and Virgil Thomson have provided.
Similar comments apply to the rest of the disc. I very much enjoyed the purely instrumental items. The items from the “Songs of the British Isles” make much of their Celtic background, and the middle movement of the Incantations is a solo for bass viol (Beverley Au) which whilst being closely related to similar movements by Marais and his contemporaries has a character all of its own. By the end of the disc I found myself wanting to hear more of Ayton’s instrumental works, but being unconvinced of his abilities to write memorably for the voice. This nonetheless remains an interesting disc, with an obvious interest as an expansion of the repertoire of the viol consort, and also as introducing a composer of modest aims but with a distinctive talent in writing for that instrument. The playing of Parthenia is fluent, although neither they nor the singer are flattered by a close recording which emphasizes the airlessness of much of the writing.
John Sheppard


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