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Craig ARMSTRONG (b. 1959)
Violin Concerto No. 1 Immer (2007) [18:14]
One Minute - Fifteen pieces for orchestra [18:34]
Memory Takes My Hand (2006) [34:29]
Clio Gould (violin); Lucy Crowe (soprano);
Apollo Voices/Stephen Betteridge
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Garry Walker
rec. Recording Studio 1, Maida Vale Studios, London, 17-19 December 2007, 25 February 2008. DDD
VIRGIN CLASSICS 5190322 [71:38]
Experience Classicsonline

Craig Armstrong was born in Glasgow and studied composition and piano at the Royal Academy in London (1977-81). You may be familiar with his name from the film world. He wrote the scores for World Trade Center (Oliver Stone) and Elizabeth - The Golden Age (Shekhar Kapur). The works on this CD are recent and show that he also writes for the concert hall.
The Violin Concerto was written for Clio Gould who many will know from her Scottish Ensemble CD of Dave Heath. She leads the RPO and has also recorded English String Classics and Alan Bush. In the case of Armstrong, her fine strong line between vulnerability and the unshakeable is aided by a resilient yet sensitive recorded sound. The Concerto is concerned with Eternity and is in a language familiar if you know your Pärt Cantus - In Memoriam, or Schnittke Spiegel im Spiegel or Glass Violin Concerto or John Tavener. Armstrong and Gould articulate the still small voice that endures through upheaval. At 9:42 the music rises once to a passionate outburst and then sinks back into the balm of calm. There is an impressive singleness of purpose and concentration about this work.
One Minute was commissioned by the Horse Cross Trust for the opening of Perth's new concert hall. These fifteen pointillistic little pieces for orchestra and location recordings establish and evoke atmosphere and a sense of landscape. Each one bears the title of a location in Scotland. The added recorded sounds include water, wind and birdsong. Each piece functions as an evocation 'tablet' – they are so short. The language is accessible – somewhere between Schoenberg's Farben,  the sym[phonies of Philip Glass and Rautavaara's Cantus Arcticus which also uses birdsong recordings. Crimond is racked with industrial din – a modernised Mossolov. Govan includes the clang, usually distant, of rivet and planishing hammers. Edinburgh rises from mists with the sound of horns resonating. I expected Cape Wrath – rather like the last movement of Butterworth’s First Symphony - to be tempestuous but again fog and mystery are the order of the day. Rannoch Moor is a lament. And finally Perth the Beautiful sings out with sustained high violins again recalling Pärt's Britten memorial.
The playwright Peter Arnott provided the words for Memory Takes My Hand - a 12 movement piece for soloist, chorus and orchestra. It was commissioned by Glasgow City Council for the reopening of the Kelvingrove Art Gallery. While the music is celebratory it also seems predominantly to draw sustenance from melancholy - witness World (tr. 18). Age (tr. 19) seems related to the more calmly-centred sections of Tippett's A Child of Our Time. Lucy Crowe has a beautifully ethereal voice and is heard to numinous effect in Recovering (tr. 21). After so much meditative material the lively Tippett-like thrust and stab of One Day is welcome. North is a placid and fleeting benediction in the manner of Howells, for soprano, choir and orchestra. The Glasgow movement is by no means establishment-submissive - although it speaks of Dear Grey place / It goes on / Quick to pride and shame we flourish. As we loved (tr. 27) is a punishing song with cruelly exposed tessitura for Lucy Crowe. Risen is the third and final purely orchestral movement - taking a rising positive Beethovenian pulse and leading on in almost Purcellian grandeur to The world shall turn but unlike Tippett in this case it turns not to the dark-side but to the light. The final section is Many which is the longest poem here and it is sung by the choir. This is not difficult music but its words do intrigue. It's a pity that the words cannot be heard more clearly. The musical ideas carrying this forward have a majestic bearing part way between the Missa Solemnis and Orff's Carmina Burana. It makes a telling effect, partly cumulative and partly in its insistent detailing.
The booklet notes are good and include the composer's own thoughts on these pieces as well as the full sung Peter Arnott text of Memory Takes My Hand. It is a pity about the high incidence of typos. I hope that the misuse of 'it's' is down to a typo not an assumption that it is correctly used. What matters is the music and, in its distinctive anchoring in the new tonality, instantly repays with emotional yield.
Rob Barnett


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