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One of the finest versions


Kenneth YOUNG (b. 1955)
Shadows and Light
(2007) [10:20]
Lux Aeterna (2009) [13:52]
Symphony No. 2 (2004) [24:34]
Invocation (2014) [7:45]
Douce Tristesse (2012) [9:14]
Vesa-Matti Leppänen (violin)
New Zealand Symphony Orchestra/Kenneth Young
rec. Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington, 2014
ATOLL ACD216 [66:00]

Some may well recognise Kenneth Young's name as a conductor of various Morrison Music Trust, Atoll and Naxos discs of music by New Zealand composers: Edwin Carr, David Farquhar, Jack Body, Gareth Farr and a varied collection of other composers of his homeland.

The present CD asserts Young's standing as a composer. The succulent Szymanowski-like singing, swirling and surreal ways of Remembering open the programme in idyllic terms. Vesa-Matti Leppänen serves as a pilgrim-instigator musing among lavish foliage, charting a dazed way through the dewy jungle to an enchanted silence. Lux Aeterna is similarly opulent, warm, tranced and breathtakingly dreamlike. Much of it is expressed in barely a whisper and, like its disc-fellow, ends in a shallow gradient into silence. Invocation, the shortest piece here, has an affecting oboe d'amore opening that is lush yet understated. It works well with Lux Aeterna. Once again, but here more frequently, there is some masterfully active craggy work for brass.

With other short works entitled Invocation, Douce Tristesse and In Paradisum, Young could be another William Mathias. He is his own man but those careful title metrics suggest kinship at least at a superficial level. Invocation with its superb oboe d'amore solo at the start is more eruptive than Remembering and Lux Aeterna but ends pianissimo as do all five scores. Douce Tristesse is a gently lulling memory piece evocative of contented family holidays in the Bay of Plenty. As the notes say, there is a hint of English pastoralism here but brightly lit by the New Zealand sunshine. There are some astonishingly Baxian moments towards the close. This is Young in his easiest listening mode. Once again, all those sleepy zephyrs lead to a slow downward glide into niente.

The Second Symphony is a substantial single-movement piece. It is in a materially tougher idiom. The notes aptly refer to the composer's regard for the sound-worlds of Dutilleux and Duruflé. There is also more than a grain of Messiaen in this intensely coloured and at times meltingly dissonant music. Sargasso-static episodes contrast with martial angularity as at 8:50, heroic grandeur at 12:00 and later moments that have more in common with Arnold, Ravel and Szymanowski. The Symphony ends in what is for Young a typically glistening quietude.

Young's Symphony No. 3 was written for the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra and Woolston Brass and may well be promising. I also like the title of Saffire - a concerto for orchestra and four guitars; potentially a companion to Rodrigo's Concierto Andaluz. Young's other works include two symphonies, the first running to 42 minutes and the Third carrying the title The Enchanted Dance Hall. The latter is for brass band. Those shiny instruments play a major part in this composer's creative resources.

The booklet identifies the solo instrumentalists in each piece as Vesa-Matti Leppänen (violin) in Remembering and Symphony No. 2, Robert Orr (oboe d'amore) in Invocation, Donald Armstrong (violin) in Douce Tristesse and Andrew Joyce (cello) in the Symphony.

I loved the style of the Atoll liner-notes (English language only) which are direct and simply spoken.

Atoll's engineering team allow this music to speak with eloquence. These five glimmering pieces, while having an occasionally turbulent face, speak of a composer who revels in lambent colours quietly expressed.

Rob Barnett



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