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Nigel CLARKE (b.1960) Parnassus for Thirteen Solo Strings (1987) [11:54] The Scarlet Flower for flugel horn and thirteen solo strings (2014) [16:31] Dogger, Fisher, German Bight, Humber, Thames, Dover, Wight for speaker, thirteen solo strings and sound design (2014) [29:11] Pulp and Rags for thirteen solo strings (2015) [9:40] Epitaph for Edith Cavell for solo violin (2015) [3:54]
Sébastien Rousseau (flugel horn); Malene Sheppard Skærved (speaker)
Longbow/Peter Sheppard Skærved (violin/director)
rec. various London locations, 2014-15 TOCCATA CLASSICS TOCC0325 [72:10]
I first became aware of the violinist Peter Sheppard Skærved when attempting a review of Naxos's 2007 recording of Rochberg's Violin Concerto. His name has cropped up widely in connection with brilliant and thoughtfully executed discs for Metier (Beethoven Explored: vol. 1; vol. 2). There have been others for Toccata (Reicha, Tartini and Matthews) both as soloist and as the leader of the Kreutzer Quartet; he has also made discs with the quartet for Metier (Gerhard; Catalan Quartets). Add to this roster a well-received Henze disc on Naxos where the orchestra was the very same Longbow who appear on this Clarke disc. He made Lorelt his home for a Trandafilovski disc; Mihailo Trandafilovski is a fellow member of the Kreutzer Quartet who in turn have recorded Gloria Coates' quartets 1-9 for Naxos. To complete the chain, composer Nigel Clarke - a long time collaborator and friend of Skærved - had a disc of his music issued by Naxos in 2008. Skærved and Longbow played on that disc as well.
Edith Cavell, the British nurse executed in Belgium by the German army in 1915 for assisting the escape of allied soldiers shot in the First World War, is the subject of Clarke's short and very touching Epitaph for solo violin. It is a lyrical, fragile yet confident piece. It ends a disc that begins with Parnassus for Thirteen Solo Strings. This is a furiously complex and assertive piece the sabre-sharp complexity of which recalls Penderecki's Threnody at one moment and Tippett's Corelli Fantasia at the next. Its haunting and fascinating modernity contrasts with the Epitaph; then again the two works are separated by 28 years. The Scarlet Flower - also a memorial to Edith Cavell - places the flugel horn front and centre. It favours a pert lyrical, lovingly rounded and caressed manner. The solo instrument calls out in isolation across green meadows in elegiac fluency and is then joined by the same number of strings featured in four of the five works on this disc. This is a truly virtuoso work yet with some moving overtones of regret. The solo line carries some luggage from Britten's Serenade; indeed I can imagine this reworked as a piece for French horn and orchestra. It's quite a discovery - something you will want to play again. Martin Westlake's Cavell-centred poem of the same name is reproduced in full.
Dogger, Fisher, German Bight, Humber, Thames, Dover, Wight runs to almost half an hour. Its structure is simple enough. First comes the allusive history-wandering poem taking Dover as its subject, read by the poet: Malene Sheppard Skaerved. The words are presented naked with no musical underpinning - this is not a melodrama. Seagull cries, the patter of rain, the wash of waves and other sounds are added sparingly at several points. The reading of the poem is completed after 12:30 and the orchestra joins with music that hints at Grimes' seascapes and Tippett (Triple Concerto and Concerto for Double String Orchestra). The music is distilled, blade-keen melodic; poignant and searching. The same poet and the same Channel city is the subject of another poem and piece of music: Pulp and Rags.
The disc is supported by two articles: one by the composer; the other by Skaerved. All the spoken words - and there are five pages of them - are reproduced. Rob Barnett