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Silvina 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) (2005) [9:29]
tigres azules (blue tigers) (2003) [17:32]
Alison 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, cristales) DDD
LORELT LNT129 [72:14]
Experience Classicsonline

of 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.
 
The 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.
 
cristales 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.
 
I 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.
 
The 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.
 
Bob Briggs
 

 


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