Ivor GURNEY (1890-1937)
Sleep (1915) (arr. Iain Farrington) [3.08]
François COUPERIN (1668-1733)
Les baricades mistérieuses (1717) (arr. Thomas Adès) [2.45]
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)
Nocturne, Op. 60 (1958) [25.35]
John LENNON (1940-1980) / Paul MCCARTNEY (b. 1942)
Blackbird (arr. Iain Farrington) [2.56]
Brett DEAN (b. 1961)
Pastoral Symphony (2000) [16.44]
György LIGETI (1923-2006)
Poème symphonique for 100 metronomes (1962) [3.55]
Peter Lawrence BUCK (b. 1956) / Michael E MILLS (b 1958) / John Michael STIPE (b. 1960)
I've Been High (arr. Richard Tognetti) [3.43]
Allan Clayton (tenor)
Aurora Orchestra/Nicholas Collon
rec. 2014, Fairfield Hall, Croydon, London, UK
Full sung texts included in booklet
WARNER CLASSICS 2564 608223 [58.46]

With this disc the London-based Aurora Orchestra under founder and artistic director Nicholas Collon takes the listener on a themed journey described as “an exploration of a troubled night – its thoughts and dreams and the hazy space between waking and sleeping.” This follows close on the heels of its first album Road Trip. This is a characteristically fresh and innovative programme based around two core yet diverse works Britten’s song-cycle Nocturne and Australian, Brett Dean’s Pastoral Symphony. Mixed in is a diverse mix of five smaller-scale works four of which are arrangements.

Opening the programme is Ivor Gurney’s Sleep for voice and piano to a John Fletcher text. It forms part of his cycle Five Elizabethan Songs. Aurora’s composer-in-residence Iain Farrington has arranged the score for voice, flute, oboe, clarinet, two violins, viola, cello and double bass. François Couperin’s buoyantly attractive Les baricades mistérieuses - a harpsichord piece from 1717 - is given here in a 1994 arrangement for clarinet, bass clarinet, viola, cello and double bass as prepared by Thomas Adès. Britten’s Nocturne for tenor and seven obbligato instruments and strings sets eight texts, all by different writers. The evocative nocturnal theme bridges all the texts and each song is accompanied by a different instrumental grouping with only the final song using all the instruments. First recorded in 1968 the song Blackbird is credited to John Lennon and Paul McCartney although it seems that McCartney alone composed the work. Iain Farrington’s arrangement is for a group comprising voice, alto flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, viola, cello and harp together with blackbird song recorded on location in Northumberland provided by wildlife sound recordist Chris Watson.

Brett Dean explained that his Pastoral Symphony from 2000 “is about glorious birdsong, the threat that it faces, the loss, and the soulless noise that we're left with when they're all gone.” Often dark and aggressive this remarkable evocation successfully mixes birdsong with urban noise and makes a real impact especially when the music builds to a pair of tumultuous climaxes. I’m not sure how György Ligeti’s Poème symphonique for 100 metronomes fits into this programme. Nevertheless, it’s an intriguing work, a novelty that probably wouldn’t normally be heard. For this ‘event’ score Ligeti has 100 metronomes all wound up and set at various tempi. The final work here is Richard Tognetti’s arrangement for strings and bass drum of I’ve Been High by rock band R.E.M. from its 2001 album Reveal.

Tenor Allan Clayton excels in his four works, especially notable in Britten's challenging and substantial Nocturne. He has a captivating voice with unblemished tone, crystal clear diction and a sense of spontaneity. The tender ballads Gurney’s Sleep, McCartney’s Blackbird and R.E.M.’s I’ve Been High are given expressive renditions by Clayton who seems in his element with this type of mixed repertoire. Nicholas Collon draws high quality playing from the orchestra who perform with engaging and energising commitment and no suggestion of routine. In the booklet the notes are pretty good and full sung texts are provided. The album is impressively recorded having reasonably close, crystal-clear sound and an extremely satisfying balance.

Michael Cookson

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