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]
Daniels (tenor); Nicholas Daniel (oboe); Julius Drake
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) SIGNUM CLASSICS SIGCD149 [76:14]
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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