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Jonathan COLE (b.1970)
Testament (2005 ) [11:03]*
Ben FOSKETT (b.1977)

Violin Concerto (2004) [32:44]*
Luke BEDFORD (b.1978)

Or Voit Tout En Aventure (2006) [16:21]*
Clio Gould (violin); Claire Booth (soprano)
London Sinfonietta/Oliver Knussen
rec. London, 5 December 2005; 2 April 2004; 30 May 2006. DDD
*world premiere recording
LONDON SINFONIETTA: JERWOOD SERIES SINF CD-1-2007 [42:36]
Experience Classicsonline

 
 

This year, 2008, marks the London Sinfonietta’s 40th Anniversary. The Sinfonietta is one of Europe’s elite specialist orchestras, dedicated wholly to the performance of modern music. Its commitment to innovation is unsurpassed. Each of its musicians is a virtuoso in his or her own right, which is important in new music where so much depends on performance. Oliver Knussen, one of the Sinfonietta’s founding lights, is himself a composer of significance. Technical excellence isn’t enough. The individuality of each new work, each new composer must be understood and respected. That’s why the Sinfonietta is so good. Its members respond to things which often are so new that no-one’s ever heard them before, and work closely with composers whenever possible. This creates a lively creative dynamic, where composers and performers inspire each other.

This recording is a good example of the interaction between the Sinfonietta and three young British composers. It’s the third in the innovative "Jerwood Series" supported by the Jerwood Trust to encourage new talent. All three of these composers – Cole, Foskett and Bedford – are fairly well established now, but received early support from the Sinfonietta, so it’s good to hear this compilation. Each piece is taken from a recording of a live concert, so there’s a thrilling air of spontaneity in the playing, making the music vivid.

Jonathan Cole’s Testament spins out a long, sinuous melodic line, where fragments of chorale appear, briefly, especially towards the end. It was written as a personal tribute to Sue Knussen, who passionately loved new music and inspired many around her. "The eruption towards the end", says Coler, "is a direct expression of grief at the way such a vibrant life was taken from us, and throughout the piece the notes E flat (Es in German or S) and E underpin the musical material, signifying S(u)E". When I first heard this piece I hadn’t read any notes, approaching it instead on its own terms. For me then, it was impressionistically lyrical. I remember feeling how "open" it felt, as if it lived in nature, bathed in sunlight and heard against the sounds of leaves and birds. What a shock it was to discover that its first performance took place on a summer evening in California, in the open air! An expansive feeling of open space suffuses the piece with gentle lyricism, making the anguish of the ending all the more disturbing. Such goodness shouldn’t end, but like life, it does.

Everyone who attends London concerts will be familiar with Clio Gould. She’s a remarkably distinctive player, with unerring musical intelligence. I’ve heard her take over the entire orchestra in a performance (not with the Sinfonietta), where the sheer vastness of the symphony being played threatened to unravel. Unperturbed, she led the strings and the orchestra fell into place, allowing the conductor to regain his control and direction. No surprise then that music has been written specially for her. She’s the dedicatee of Ben Foskett’s Violin Concerto. The solo part dominates, continually inventing and reinventing the line, varying momentum and thrust. The rest of the orchestra follows, not so much elaborating on what she does, but providing a sympathetic spotlight, the ensemble playing with supportive energy.

The highlight on this disc, however, may well be Luke Bedford’s Or Voir Tout En Aventure. I was at the very performance at which this recording was made. What a revelation it proved to be! Or Voir Tout En Aventure is based on a series of medieval texts about music, and the "new music" of the period. What is it about medieval language that so fascinates composers? Perhaps it is the mixture of familiarity and alienation, sparking an imaginative response to what Bedford calls "the sheer strangeness of the words and their distance from us". We think we can make out words and phrases, yet it is a world very different from ours. It lends itself well to music which is strikingly new, yet universal in its emotional impact. Indeed, these 14th century songs are about music, and adapting to changes "when everything is uncontrolled" (the literal translation of "Or voir tout en aventure").

What makes these songs work so well is that the vocal part is written with a real instinct for the natural resonance of the human voice. Voice is not a mere component of a musical whole, for it is "more" than just sound. Claire Booth showed this beautifully, her rich, nuanced expressiveness connecting directly to an emotional depth more complex than the text alone. She seems to embody the feelings behind the music itself – an abundant faith in the power of music as communication that goes beyond restraints of time and place. Bedford stretches the technical limits but not to an extent that the natural flow is distorted: but it is Booth’s musical instinct that colours and warms her singing, that makes it sensually as well as intellectually challenging. The use of accordion is interesting, for it, too, like the human voice, is an instrument that uses "lungs" to breathe life into its sounds. Similarly, the barrel machine creates rain-like sounds from a deep container mainly filled with air. Needless to say, the winds were superb – flute and oboe in particular. The orchestration is subtle, interspersed with shining details on triangle and xylophone. This is a lovely piece of music, full of character. Since 2006, it’s received at least five performances and is well on its way to becoming established repertoire.

In October 2007, Bedford was named by the Guardian as "one of the four young stars of classical music you need to hear". In March 2008, he was named the first Composer-in-Residence at the Wigmore Hall. This is an even bigger accolade, for the Wigmore Hall is one of the great powerhouses of chamber music and song in Europe. Nearly every composer of note in the 20th century has been performed, and even performed himself in the Wigmore Hall, so this is quite a significant honour. Listen to this recording, and you’ll hear why.


See also http://www.musicweb-international.com/SandH/2006/Jan-Jun06/hesketh3005.htm

 

Anne Ozorio


 




 


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