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Music For My Love – Volume 3
Ukrainian Festival Orchestra/Paul Mann
rec. 2018, Lviv Palace of the Arts, Lviv, Ukraine

This is the third volume in a remarkable series that presents new works for string orchestra composed in memory of Yodit Tekle. She was the life partner of Martin Anderson, the proprietor of Toccata Classics. She died in April 2015, aged 37. Anderson explains the sad background to this project in an essay in the booklet. Readers who want to know more can refer to reviews of the two previous volumes (review ~ review). The booklet also features an introduction to each work written by its composer, along with detailed information about the composers and performers.

Lloyd Moore’s two-part work, Leavings, begins close to the spirit of Penderecki’s Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima, though less extreme in its dissonances. The music of the first part, ‘Departure’, is sombre, even tortured; the second, ‘Remembrance’, actually composed first, is only marginally less so, and that despite the composer’s description of it as ‘more wistful’. It is a deeply felt work that makes imaginative use of instrumental solos.

Yodit Tekle arrived in the United Kingdom as a refugee from Eritrea. We learn from Adam Gorb’s booklet note that the word ‘desta’ means ‘happiness’ in the main Eritrean language, and that the syncopated rhythms he employs are typical of the music from that region of Africa. He also tells us that the work uses thirty-seven pitches, the age at which she died. What he doesn’t mention is that the piece is infectiously attractive from the first note to the last, a worthy, life-enhancing five-minute memorial to a person who was, by all accounts, full of life. I had never heard any of Adam Gorb’s music before, but I will now be seeking it out.

Martin Anderson and Toccata Records have done David Hackbridge Johnson proud, with three CDs of his orchestral works available. Of When Words Fail the composer writes that the music ‘alternates between dramatic gestures and elegiac passages of austere counterpoint’ leading to ‘an extended coda’ – actually about half the length of the piece – in ‘a radiant and hopeful E major crowned by the trilling of three solo violins.’ I will surely not be the only listener who hears in these trills echoes of the close of Strauss’s Four Last Songs.

The punning title of Rodney Newton’s piece gives a clue to its nature and mood. Based on themes by the Renaissance composer Loyset Compčre, its musical language never strays far from the original, making it something like a pastiche, though without the pejorative flavour that word can sometimes evoke. It’s a lively piece, and even rather jolly, which is appropriate since the composer dedicated it to Alex, Yodit and Martin’s son, who was only 5 when his mother died.

Robert Matthew-Walker’s piece was begun on the day Yodit died and completed within twenty-four hours. It is richly scored with important parts for a solo cello and string trio. The composer calls it ‘contemplative’ and so it is. It is hardly my place to decide what a composer’s intentions were, but I also find it deeply sad, the saddest music in this collection, I think, very beautiful and extremely moving.

Whereas Matthew-Walker’s music respects certain traditions of English string writing, the constantly decorated outpouring of melody that is Martin Georgiev’s Lifepath is in complete contrast. Indeed, listening to this collection straight through, what strikes the listener as much as the sheer quality of each piece, is the wide variety of style and method. David Braid, for instance, ‘wanted to avoid the more obvious lament-type work’, and instead composed a four-part fugue. This could have been as dry as dust, but not at all. Within its very short time-frame, this ‘music with motion and direction, with linear purpose – like life itself’ achieves as intense a depth of expression as its companions, but by very different means.

Another interesting aspect of this programme is that contributions come from figures who are not primarily composers. For Dana Paul Perna, for example, writing music is only one activity among many in the artistic field. His short piece is a sombre meditation, homophonic and, in common with many of these pieces, never straying very far from tonal roots. Ian Hobson describes himself as ‘a pianist and conductor’ and ‘an extremely occasional composer’. Martin Anderson invited him to write something ‘cheerful, even whimsical’, and the result is a tiny scherzo on the Coventry Carol. (I am writing this on New Year’s Day, so the Coventry Carol is fresh in the mind!) The theme is audible throughout a brilliantly wrought little piece that ends with the same flourish employed by Dukas to dispatch his sorcerer’s apprentice. By his own admission, Raymond Head has ‘diverged from the straight and narrow path of composition several times’. Ave atque Vale – ‘Hail and Farewell’ – is perhaps the most challenging piece here. The musical language is more advanced than most, and the atmosphere created, though undeniably sombre, is equivocal and difficult to grasp. This will no doubt become easier with the repeated hearings the piece positively demands.

The performances of all these works are quite superb. The Ukrainian Festival Orchestra plays with a most attractive richness of tone, and the players’ mastery of and commitment to music that was inevitably unfamiliar to them, is outstanding. Much of the credit for this must go to Paul Mann, a conductor whose curiosity for new music seems to know no bounds. The recording, by a Ukrainian team, is very fine.

The collection closes with Nocturne for Yodit by Michael Csány-Wills, another composer who has been handsomely – and deservedly – served by Toccata Classics. At ten minutes, this is one of the more substantial pieces. It is superbly constructed in three parts, beginning and ending in calm, its close a warm, long-held major chord. The composer describes this as ‘serene stillness … slowly leading to the final resting place’. It seems safe to assume that the composer was seeking to create music of consolation, a worthy intention in the circumstances. I know from personal experience that, as time passes, we do arrive at some kind of acceptance, where we can evoke those we have lost with pleasure and happy thoughts. I hope that the talent and dedication of the composers and performers who have contributed to this project are supporting Martin Anderson on his journey through the first, painful phase, to arrive in serenity at the second.

William Hedley

Lloyd MOORE (b. 1966)
Leavings: Two Elegies for String Orchestra [13:59]
Adam GORB (b. 1958)
Desta (2017) [4:57]
David Hackbridge JOHNSON (b. 1963)
When Words Fail … [10:53]
Rodney NEWTON (b. 1945)
Beyond Compčre (2017) [5:32]
Robert MATTHEW-WALKER (b. 1939)
The Rivers of Time (2015) [7:17]
Martin GEORGIEV (b. 1983)
Lifepath [3:40]
David BRAID (b. 1970)
Out of the Darkness [3:50]
Dana Paul PERNA (b. 1958)
Memory Brings You [3:55]
Ian HOBSON (b. 1952)
Coventry Ca(sse)rol(e) [2:51]
Raymond HEAD (b. 1948)
Ave atque Vale (2016) [3:43]
Michael CSÁNY-WILLS (b. 1975)
Nocturne for Yodit [10:06]

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