If this album of contemporary songs by British composers does
indeed reflect 21st century Britain, as the title promises,
then Britain must be a rather sombre, serious place, with little
warmth or contentment. 'Winter is a slow death waiting', as
one of the songs has it.
One of the featured composers, David Power, provides introductory
notes, in which he offers the following contextualisation: "In
recent decades, the influence of the European avant-garde has
receded, the influence of rock music has become ever stronger
and British composers seem to have become more at ease with
stylistic diversity as well as with their own national musical
heritage." There are some very big assumptions in that statement,
but Power - whose biographical note says that his "initial interest
was rock music but the electronic instrumentals on David Bowie's
album Low prompted a change in direction" - is more controversial
when he reports an informal audience vote at a recent festival
in England indicating the public's preference for the kind of
new song featured here over the established masterpieces of
Britten, Quilter, Finzi, Bridge and Butterworth.
If that is the case, sales of this CD should do very well, but
given the predominantly conservative nature of 'classical' audiences,
it does seem rather unlikely. The texts set here are all contemporary
in character, chiefly elliptic or cryptic, with minimum or obscure
prosody. Many range from the slightly pretentious to the very
pretentious, and beyond that to the pointless. An example of
the former is The Waiting by Jane MacNamee: "The waiting/
the waiting/ spilled into me/ The world is a stranger without
you." (The end). The second verse of Instinct, a translated
haiku by Kobayashi Issa, gives an example of pointless: "lightning
flash -/ not giving a damn/ the toad's face". The best poetry
is to be found in the three more traditional-themed texts -
ironically anonymous - of Peter Reynolds' Adieu to All Alluring
Toys, and in the eight by Don Walls set by Steve Crowther
in Songs for Don, which are modern/urban but easily comprehensible.
One of them, incidentally - 'Junkie' - is a rather graphic portrayal
of a drug addict's lot, and does include the F-word.
However bad or good, in all cases the poems are improved by
their settings, which, though often atonal and modernistically
jerky, are full of atmosphere, adventure and bite from beginning
to end. All these composers, on this admittedly scant evidence,
seem to have something to say to 21st century audiences - provided
they can find them!
Cardiff-born baritone Paul Carey Jones has a fine, powerful
voice. He deals with the many technical and expressive difficulties
posed by these composers very well, on the whole - as for example
in the opening of David Lancaster's Memory of Place.
His enunciation is impressively lucid, aided in no small part
by some very thoughtfully written scores. His vowels are inevitably
coloured Welsh, but not to any distracting degree. His Rs are
nearly always heavily rolled, which comes across as something
of an affectation after a while. He has also done his homework:
in Reynolds' Adieu, he does not rhyme 'saith' (the archaic
third person singular present of say) with 'faith', which is
for the eyes only, and elsewhere he correctly pronounces the
Austrian city Graz. Ian Ryan, like Jones making his debut recording
for Meridian, follows the latter's lead attentively and cogently
in what is at times rather unforgiving music.
Sound quality is very good, as it ought to be from a label who,
in their own words, "continue to astound listeners and artists
with our stylish and captivating recordings using our revered
'natural sound' technique."
Those suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder might do well
to avoid this disc, but in other respects this is a decent product.
Waverers can download the booklet for free from Meridian's website
Collected reviews and contact at artmusicreviews.co.uk
see also review by Rob