This, the first disc devoted to the music of Charlotte Bray and dedicated
one of her teachers Mark-Anthony Turnage, opens with her 2012 Proms
commission At the Speed of Stillness
an energetic and magical score. I like the composer's analogy of
following the towers of the Sizewell power station as you drive towards them
- the concept of travelling at speed yet the object gets only a little
nearer - two speeds going on at once. The technique of the large orchestra
for which it was written is split into various ostinati going at a differing
rapidities seems not only apt but an exciting way of using such an ensemble.
The whole piece echoes a quoted poem also of contraries by Dora Maar "It was
night in the summer/winter in the day". I really like this piece but still,
after several hearings find the ending falls between two stools neither
thoughtful with a sense of arrival nor positive.
Dedicated to another of her teachers, this time Oliver Knussen,
is for solo piano. Knussen's music
and that of Henze helped to inspire this piece. The title is Greek for
'dreams' and its multi-faceted dreamlike landscape is beautifully portrayed
and superbly captured by Huw Watkins. The complex rhythms sound natural and
fluent and the harmony is quite captivating. It reaches a climax point at a
perfectly placed 7:30 and then drifts away as if dwindling into
As a result of being one of the winners of the 2010 Philharmonic Society's
Composition Prize, Bray was commissioned to write a Piano Quintet which she
. Now what can a young
century composer contribute to this much explored form - so
many works in this format having been written. The answer is to be yourself
and this she has done. So this piece is brief, in one movement divided into
two, possibly three, sections. The first with its swirling counterpoint was
inspired by "images of spherical geometry" to quote the composer's own
comments printed in the booklet. The second she describes as "more earthy"
opens with a "rumbling piano line". This reaches a wild climax like some
jazz session gone wrong. The strings, which began the piece, fall silent,
exposing the piano to end the piece rather wistfully.
It so happens that whilst acquainting myself with this disc and writing
these comments I was present for a performance of Bray's chamber opera at
the Presteigne festival entitled Entanglement
in which there is
some strikingly sympathetic writing for the leading female character Ruth
Ellis, the last woman hanged in England. Bray writes beautifully for soprano
and Lucy Schaufer is ideal for the moving cycle Fire Burning in
, settings of Nicki Jackowska. She is precise in tuning
and very expressive with utterly clear diction. The work is dedicated to the
memory of another fine English composer important to Bray, Jonathan Harvey
who would I think have applauded the word setting. The poems concern loss
and bereavement, the first from a female standpoint, the second from a male
with a more aggressive feel of harmony and rhythm. The third is a sort of
androgynous poem "I dream him lustily/my tide rears him throws him back". As
in the opera only rarely does Charlotte Bray repeat a line and when she does
it has real meaning. Her lines are not only expressive and sensitive for the
voice but also beautifully shaped for the oboe in the first song.
Five songs constitute Songs from Yellow Leaves
another recent song-cycle with, this time, piano. It consists in all of nine
Haiku by Caroline Thomas. The first, 'Still Standing', is again about loss
of a loved one. The second, 'Collusion', is the obverse being "full of
bitterness and deceit". The third 'While the bell tolls' attempts some kind
of reconciliation. The dissonant piano part of number 2 is transported into
something akin to a syncopated ostinato - a suitable contrast. The fourth,
'Farewell', returns to loneliness, contemplating that it was "all an
illusion". The vocal line is accompanied by a delicately sensitive piano.
Finally 'Old Tales' demonstrates what the composer calls "the beauty of
love" with an excitable accompaniment to a wild and wide ranging vocal
setting. Sometimes however the fight with the lines defeats the diction of
the otherwise ideal Claire Booth and her meticulous pianist.
The CD ends with the longest work, Caught in
(I love Bray's titles) for violin and instrumental
ensemble. Here it is conducted by one of Bray's mentors Oliver Knussen.
Another influence is mentioned in the notes, the jazz saxophonist Sonny
Rollins. Bray writes 'I wanted to captured the same kind of relentless
energy" as in his 'Autumn Nocturne' and this she achieves in the bubbly
first movement. In fact she precedes it, unusually, with a virtuoso cadenza.
The bipartite nature of the work is a result of the two poems which also
inspired the piece 'A Match with the Moon' by Dante Gabriel Rossetti and
Lorca's 'The Moon sails out'. These are not printed in the booklet but Bray
tells us that "both poems have a sense of mystery". The title comes from the
Rossetti poem which includes the line, "caught in the treetops like a kite".
Played without a break the second movement has a moonlit, calm atmosphere.
Little disturbs its tranquillity enabling the work to end on an open
These performances must have thrilled the composer and the recording is
ideal. NMC provide all of the sung texts and Bray's notes are not too
detailed but mostly illuminating. Well worth exploring.