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Richard BLACKFORD (b. 1954)
Niobe The Lover [6.44]
Niobe The Blasphemer [4.34]
Niobe The Pleader [4.08
Niobe The Mourner [7.43]
Tamsin Waley-Cohen (violin), Czech Philharmonic Orchestra/Ben Gernon
rec. Dvořák Hall, Rudofinum, Prague 2017

You will note that this CD, promoted as an EP, offers only 23 minutes of music, and is selling for around the price of a Naxos CD. Many buyers will be put off, thinking it poor value. I would certainly think very carefully before taking a punt on music I had not heard before when so little seemed to be on offer. Yet the concerto is not without interest and charm, and is beautifully performed by two of Britain’s finer young artists. I cannot understand the thinking behind releasing the work in this way, and so need to begin my review with a caveat emptor.

With that health warning, there is much here to ponder. The concerto – for that is what Niobe is – is conceived as a single span. It was obviously conceived in collaboration with Tamsin Waley-Cohen as Richard Blackford’s helpful notes make clear.

The source is the ancient legend of Niobe, the daughter of tantalus who gave birth to fourteen children. She boasted that she was superior to the goddess Leto, who managed only two. Following something of a hissy fit, Leto sends Apollo to kill Niobe’s seven sons, and Artemis to see off the daughters. Niobe’s husband kills himself and Niobe is petrified (literally) on Mount Sipylus and, the cascades over the rock are her endless tears.

This tale is used by composer and soloist – who collaborated closely – as an allegory for the continuing abuse and ill-treatment of women, but knowledge of the story really isn’t necessary to recognise the beauty and interest of the music. It has many contrasting aspects, though the lasting impression I took away was of its meditative and lyrical aspect. Much is very beautiful and oddly timeless in a traditional and melodic idiom. I enjoyed it, and it will give much pleasure – and it certainly deserves a place on our concert platforms.

Tamsi Waley-Cohen plays magnificently – not a matter of surprise in such an accomplished young violinist. Ben Gernon – with whom she frequently collaborates – is a conductor of whom we shall hear much more, and rightly: definitely one to follow.

Michael Wilkinson

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