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MILSTEIN (b. 1956)
of lavender light… (1997) [10:28]
the unending rose I (1999) [8:21]
fire dressed in black (2002) [17:05]
the unending rose II (1999) [9:16]
cristales y susurros (whispering crystals)
tigres azules (blue tigers) (2003) [17:32]
Wells (mezzo); Caroline Balding (violin)
Lontano/Odaline de la Martinez
rec. 18 March 2008 (lavender, tigres) and 17 June 2008 (rose I and II) St Mary’s
Church, Walthamstow, 25 March 2008, St Mary’;s Church, Woodcote, Purley (fire,
LORELT LNT129 [72:14]
lavender light…, a piece
for eleven players, muddles around in darkness for most
of its duration, without any real sense of purpose. It’s
quite grim and unsmiling, taking itself far too seriously.
That makes me wonder why so much contemporary music seems
unable to laugh and joke … to have a good time. Life
isn’t all worries about the credit crunch or WMD, it’s
about having a pint with your friends, enjoying spending
time in idleness, reading a book, sharing a joke.
two pieces called the unending rose are for solo
violin and the second certainly has something about it.
It reminded me, although it doesn’t sound at all like it,
of the Ysaye Obsession Sonata, because it is quite
obsessive in its use of material. This is a very fine piece
indeed and requires a high degree of virtuosity from the
performer in keeping the various elements flowing and working
together. Caroline Balding puts up a very persuasive case
for it. For me, this is the highlight of the disk for this
music really shows some purpose.
y susurros, for septet, features
some interesting flute and harp writing, it’s rather
impressionistic in feel but it lacks the delicacy and
transparency which is so essential to that music. tigres
azules is another work for ensemble, fifteen players
this time. This is much more colourful than of lavender
light.. and thus, it has more interest with more
to attract the ear. However, as with the first piece,
it slops around in the mire with no discernable point
of view; we’ve heard it all before. It’s interesting
that fire dressed in black – a setting of St John
of the Cross – sounds exactly like tigres azules with
a vocal line added on top of it.
don’t think that I am being unfair to this music. It’s
just that it’s all too bland – the same thing over and
over again, with little regard for variety and progression.
I don’t care if the composer doesn’t write in sonata forms,
or create vivid tableaux. What I do care about in music
is interest and a feeling that the composer has a sense
of purpose and the knowledge of where their music is going.
This logical progression – and you can find it in composers
as diverse as J S Bach and Ligeti – is the backbone of
music. Schönberg’s Variations for Orchestra, op. 31 (1926/1928) and the exceptional Begleitmusik
zu einer Lichtspielszene [Accompaniment to a film
scene], op. 34 (1930) display the most rigid, yet fascinating,
logic. That is why, despite their difficulties – they are
both hard listens – they make such satisfying compositions.
The other problem is that all these pieces are so dour,
they never smile, or even make the attempt to lighten up.
It’s impossible to listen to many Haydn Symphonies and
String Quartets without a smile coming to the lips at one
of his well placed jokes. Contemporary composers seem to
have lost the ability to allow their audience a simple
bit of enjoyment.
performances are very good, I am sure. Much time and energy
has obviously been spent putting them together. The sound
is fine and the notes good. If only I could say the same
thing about the music.
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