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aBritish Symphonies
4CDs £16 post-free


W.S. Bennett, Rootham, Moeran,
Bax, Rubbra, Rawsthorne, Berkeley
Alwyn, Grace Williams, Arnold, Wordsworth. Searle, Joubert

Van Dieren Chinese Symphony
Searle Symphonies 3, 5
Shaw Piano Concertos 1 and 2

£11.75 post-free

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Editor-in-Chief: Rob Barnett

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Tigran MANSURIAN (b. 1939)
Double Concerto (1978) [22:47]
Romance (2011)* [9:24]
Quasi parlando (2012)** [8:00]
Concerto No. 2 “Four Serious Songs” (2006)* [22:23]
Patricia Kopatchinskaja (violin)*; Anja Lechner (cello)**
Amsterdam Sinfonietta/Candida Thompson (lead violin)
rec. October 2012, Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ, Amsterdam
ECM NEW SERIES 2323 [62:34]

ECM’s championing of the work of Armenian composer Tigran Mansurian continues. The last one I came across was Ars Poetica (see review), and MWI has also covered Monodia, and his String Quartets. This release comes just after the composer’s 75th birthday and with most of the works performed by their dedicatees. The Amsterdam Sinfonietta directed by Candida Thompson is more familiar from the Channel Classics label, their Mahler and Brahms/Schönberg albums being both very fine indeed.
The oldest work here, the Double Concerto opens the program, its two movements a mixture of transparent serenity and ‘fiercely-concentrated’ interactions. None of these works is easily summed up in a few sentences. Mansurian’s idiom is abstract without being over-intellectual, complex without losing sight of the essence of emotional content and the desire to communicate a message which is both memorable and ‘useful’, in the sense that it is accessible to our common pool of musico-linguistic markers. The booklet notes link this work with the last work in the programme, Concerto No. 2 “Four Serious Songs”, remarking on development and change in style while sharing common ground in terms of “a characteristic sound”. These common elements are indeed “an immediacy of expression and a rigorous creative will that admits nothing superficial or inconsequential”. There is a self-contained, perhaps introvert quality to these pieces which goes against the more expected nature of a concerto. Bravura display is non-essential; technical demands are in the service of a bigger picture, and the relationship between soloist and orchestra is more often than not collaborative and confiding. There is an Allegro vivace movement in the Concerto No. 2, a violin cadenza of just over a minute, but even this is a piece which is constantly reflecting in itself, its gentler character taken on by the upper strings of the orchestra as the final, at times truly beautiful and at times confrontational molto semplice movement unfolds.
The two concertos are separated by two more recent works. The Romance is more overtly connected to the archaic folk-songs of Mansurian’s Armenian past, with yearning melody from the violin soloist growing into passionate climax, keeping up a narrative subtext while expressing the essence of the piece’s title. For cello and string orchestra, Quasi parlando turns this duality in its head, the rhetoric of the soloist more fragmented while still eloquent; the accompaniment creating vignette-like atmospheres rather than the more expansive harmonies of Romance.
Superbly performed and recorded, this is another feather in ECM’s already verdant cap, with première recordings of some magnificent and significant works. It’s always tempting to say ‘this is a good place to start’ if you are new to a composer’s work, but with the gorgeous sound of the Amsterdam Sinfonietta to enjoy in its element at the Muziekgebouw’s superb main hall, and the recognisable context of soloist(s) and string orchestra, this is an attractive and rewarding port of call for initiates and experts alike.
Dominy Clements