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Songs of the Sky
Steve MARTLAND (b. 1959)
Tiger Dancing (2005) [14:58]
Huw WATKINS (b. 1976)
Dream (2006) [6:31]
Tarik O’REGAN (b. 1978)
Raï (2006) [12:05]
Jason YARDE (b. 1970)
Who Knows the Beauty? [16:31]
John TAVENER (b. 1944)
Songs of the Sky (2005) [25:48]
Charles Daniels (tenor); Nicholas Daniel (oboe); Julius Drake (piano: Tavener)
Britten Sinfonia/Jacqueline Shave (violin, director)
rec. Angel Studios, 25 November 2005 (Martland) and 25 November 2006 (Yarde); (live) West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge, 6 March 2005 (Watkins), 14 November 2006 (O’Regan) and 6 February 2007 (Tavener)
Experience Classicsonline

Steve Martland burst onto the musical scene with his strongly impressive orchestral work Babi Yar (1983), once available on Factory FACD266. He went on composing music characterised by raw energy, sometimes akin to the so-called Dutch Minimalism of Louis Andriessen.
Tiger Dancing for string orchestra, based on his setting of Blake’s The Tyger, is somewhat lighter in mood and the music bounces along in the manner of some spiralling hoe-down. It is quite attractive and should be eagerly seized upon by string ensembles willing to expand their repertoire with a new, colourful, rhythmically alert work that could – and should – become instantly popular. It is quite efficiently scored for strings, which is no surprise since Martland had already composed some very fine works for the medium such as his Crossing the Borders (1991) (Factory FACD 366).
Huw Watkins’ Dream for violin, clarinet and piano is a short nocturne turning into nightmare. Although the calm mood is eventually restored, nightmarish visions are not completely swept away. This is a very nice piece of music, effectively done and never outstays its welcome.
Tarik O’Regan is probably better known for his choral music in which he succeeds in blending tradition with a fresh approach to choral writing. Raï is scored for small mixed ensemble consisting of string trio, flute, clarinet, harp and percussion (two players). The title meaning ‘opinion’ in Arabic also implies folk, folk-pop music with its roots in Algeria. The music again has a clear dance-like character of great appeal, not unlike that of the Martland.
Jason Yarde’s name and music are new to me. He is a highly versatile musician equally at ease in jazz as well as in ‘classical’ music. Who Knows the Beauty is scored for saxophone, piano and string trio, albeit with a double-bass instead of the more customary cello. The music unfolds in a series of contrasting episodes, some of them with a clear jazzy tinge. There are many fine moments in this attractive work that might nevertheless be a bit too eclectic for some tastes; I enjoyed it.
Tavener’s Songs of the Sky, giving this release its collective title, was composed in memory of the victims of the tsunami of December 2004. It is a rather long setting for tenor, oboe and piano of texts drawn from various sources such as American Indian poetry, Japanese death poems and a Bengali hymn to Kali. The music is characterised by dignified restraint, although one could at times have wished for more contrast. The music is fairly tightly structured with some recurrent themes and motifs strengthening the formal coherence of this long piece. The only weak point is that the final hymn to Kali is too fragmentarily set to achieve a cathartic conclusion. This work, however, is a sincere and deeply felt statement that deserves to be heard.
All performances are excellent. The recorded sound is fine - you hardly realise that some of them are live recordings. This seems to be the first release of the Britten Sinfonia’s own label in conjunction with Signum Classics. I just hope that more of this sort will soon be released for the present discs augurs well.
Hubert Culot


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