Oliver DAVIS (b. 1972)
Flight [15:28]
Skyward [3:01]
Voyager [15:18]
Air Waltz [2:34]
Airborne Dances [11:55]
Epilogue [1:33]
Kerenza Peacock (violin), Huw Watkins (piano), Dorothea Vogel (viola), Alex Gale (viola), Philip Higham (cello), Ben Russel (double bass)
London Symphony Orchestra/Paul Bateman
rec. February, 2014, Air Studios, London; August, 2014, Air Edel, London.
SIGNUM SIGCD411 [49:00]

Every once in a while, I pop on a new CD that I’ve never heard of, having received it from MusicWeb International, and find myself delightfully surprised by some unexpected music. Having never encountered Oliver Davis – and not even finding much about him on the internet - I had no idea what I would be hearing. This record has one of those single-word titles, so enamoured of contemporary composers, which suggests another hard-to-listen-to atonal album with a deep concept masked by the music.

None of that here. From the first notes of Flight – a concerto for violin and strings, composed for and in collaboration with violinist Kerenza Peacock – I was won over. The piece starts with some pulsing notes, that recall Philip Glass, but that quickly takes flight and becomes very different. This is no minimalist work, but a tonal composition whose sound does, indeed, evoke flying. The violin soars over the strings, reminding me of the Sibelius violin concerto, but with a language of its own. This attractive music is delightful and evocative, and draws you in to its images of movement. At 15 minutes, in five movements — each of which is simply numbered with a Roman numeral, as are the movements of all the works on this disc — this is a compact work. Each of the movements of this work and the others are relatively short; only one being more than four minutes long. They all function more like songs than movements of a classical concerto, holding your interest long enough without dragging on.

Davis has written a number of soundtracks, and this music does have a soundtrack-y feel to it. Some of the movements sound like they would fit behind the credits of a film but I don’t mean this in a derogatory manner. This is enjoyable music; not the kind of contemporary music that you have to think about. This is music that goes straight to the heart.

There are three longish works on this disc, and three shorter ones. Voyager, a concerto for violin, piano and strings, is about 15 minutes long, and reminds me of music by the Penguin Café Orchestra. There’s the same sort of dance rhythms in the first movement that you find in some of the recordings of that semi-classical group. As with Flight, it’s joyful music: the kind that makes you want to press the Repeat button on your player.

Airborne Dances, at just under 12 minutes, is a work for two violas, cello and double bass. It’s full of similar rhythms and combines the same type of melodies as the other works, with a hint of Vivaldi. There’s lots of pizzicato playing, some of it in a Greek style, and all of it full of delight. It’s also got a technical backstory. As the liner notes point out: “…we decided as a novelty to multitrack Kerenza on different violins to create the string section (with the added help of four additional musicians on violas, cello and double bass). The experiment took place at Air Edel studios where we set out the studio as if to record a live string section. Kerenza played every single violin line on a different seat, playing a different violin for each part, thereby creating a totally unique sound. She was kindly loaned a Stradivari, a Guadagnini, a Goffriller, a Grancino and a Fendt by violin dealers Ingles and Hayday.”

This is music for when you simply want to enjoy music. This is a disc for anyone who avoids contemporary music because they think that it’s all dissonant and angry. I'd even say that it's an album that would be appreciated by those who don't like classical music.

Kirk McElhearn
Kirk McElhearn writes about more than just music on his blog Kirkville.


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