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Graham LYNCH (b.1957)
Seria Ludo
White Book 3 (2020) [23:03]
Absolute Inwardness (2020) [9:13]
The Couperin Sketchbooks (2020) [9:26]
White Book 2 (2008) [24:39]
Ay! (2006) [10:04]
Paul Sánchez (piano) (White Book 3, Absolute Inwardness, The Couperin Sketchbooks, Ay!)
Albert Kim (piano) (White Book 2)
rec. 11-14 June 2020, Hart Recital Hall, University of Central Missouri, Warrensburg. Missouri, USA
DIVINE ART DDA25221 [76:27]

I began exploring this CD with the engaging The Couperin Sketchbooks completed in 2020. These are neither arrangements of the French master’s clavier music, nor pastiche recreations. Lynch has “juxtaposed” his own music with short fragments taken from François Couperin's Pièces de Clavecin, a collection of twenty-seven “ordres” (or suites of dances), published in four books between 1713 and 1730. In Lynch’s Sketchbooks there are several short “movements”: The Majestic Arrival, The Graceful One, The Departure, Sylvie or the Virtuous One, The Flowering Orchids, Waltz, The Restless One, Acrobats and Aerialists, Zephyr, Light and Dark, and Pastorale. The composer has summed up the resultant effect well: it is as if two compositional worlds “coexist side by side” - or is it two planets gently colliding? Not being a cognoscenti of Couperin’s music, I did not recognise any of the “given” tunes; besides, Lynch admits that he has chosen “somewhat ordinary moments from Couperin’s pieces that have the essence of his style, rather than better known and more easily recognisable themes.” Furthermore, I would not have guessed that any form of Baroque exemplars underlay this music; if anything, it strikes me as nodding towards Romanticism. It is this eclectic mix that is so fascinating in Lynch’s Music.

I turned to the earliest number on this disc, Ay! which I guess translates as “Oh!” (2006). Lynch states that it was “composed for harpsichord many years ago when I was writing some tango nuevo pieces, a brief diversion on my journey from atonal music through to where I am now.” It is not hard to hear the influence of Astor Piazzolla, the popular Argentine composer. This is a slow, lugubrious work which hypnotises the listener, and does not outstay its welcome.

The last of the “character pieces” is Absolute Inwardness. This was completed in the early days of the Covid pandemic. The liner notes give the scholarly underpinnings. However, I guess that many listeners who have not engaged with the various philosophies of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Sir Christopher Le Brun, Georg Philipp Friedrich Freiherr von Hardenberg (Novalis) or Friedrich Hölderlin will still manage to enjoy this number. I, for one, was in places reminded of Debussy, but I am sure that this is the result of my having an overactive imagination. Whatever the intellectual ramifications, this is lovely, deeply felt and typically introspective music. The occasional emotional outburst and explosions of pianistic Romanticism, only serve to highlight the work’s pensive mood. Once again, this is mesmerising and quite beautiful music.

The White Book 2 was completed in 2008. There are six beguiling movements. First is Undiscovered Islands. This concept has always appealed to me since being a boy; I once walked out to the tidal Rough Island in the Solway Firth and had all twenty acres to myself. I was a great explorer…

Lynch’s take on this is to evoke the music of an imaginary culture (well within the Western musical tradition). It balances lyricism with percussive playing. Next is Night Journey to Córdoba; this evocative title takes its inspiration from a poem (Song of the Rider, perhaps?) by the Spanish author Federico Garcia Lorca. There is nothing here of the rhythmic vitality of Isaac Albeniz’s Córdoba, Op. 232, No. 4, but it majors on matters full of “foreboding and despair” and is truly haunting. Lynch takes the listener on a trip to China with Dragon, not a fire-breathing figment of the fairy-tale writer’s imagination, but the musical presentation of an image of the “light and filigree dragon designs of China,” with all their intricate twists and turns. There is no sign of what solar system the Inner Moon is found in. The composer described this static piece as “the still centre of the set; enigmatic and weightless, its harmonies defy gravity, and leave the music floating in the air.”  Once again, Lynch turns to his beloved tango, for the re-creation of The Sadness [Sorrow] of the King. This title is taken from Matisse’s last self-portrait, where he paints himself as David playing his harp before the melancholy King Saul. Lynch’s music is quite perfect but I do not think it would have cheered up old Saul. The final piece in White Book 2 is Toques, a “swirling, impressionistic fantasy of flamenco guitar playing.” The title does not refer to chefs’ hats but is Spanish for “touches.”

François Couperin is the “impetus” behind White Book 3 (2020), a collection of miniature tone poems which echo the redolent titles given by the Frenchman to his clavecin pieces. Lynch has turned for visual inspiration to the art of Portsmouth-born painter, sculptor and printmaker, Sir Christopher Le Brun (b.1951). He writes that Le Brun’s “art is its very wide range of emotional and technical outcomes, which includes both abstract and figurative paintings, as well as sculpture and woodcuts; each artwork has a clearly defined field of operation whose possibilities can encompass landscape, nature, archetypal imagery, and much more.”

The opening number is the extrovert Seria Ludo (Serious Play?) where movement and syncopation are ever-present. Le Brun’s eponymous painting presents “serious matters treated in a playful spirit.” This is followed by the pensive The Hesperides. The music here seems a little too “pesante” for what is after all “clear-voiced maidens who guarded the tree bearing golden apples”, but then there was a dragon, Lagon, on guard too…There is a copy of the painting which provoked this piece printed in the liner notes: it does nothing for me. Glow seems to shimmer and sparkle from end to end. The composer does not deny “his predilection for the qualities of French music” here. The Rhine is the longest movement in the set. It creates a musical picture of this long river and its multi-layered musical and literary associations. From the Lorelei to Richard Wagner, it is all here. This is a serious and contemplative work. The final number is Landscapes with Angels. Here Lynch suggests that “Angels walk among men, and the world is momentarily transformed by a heavenly presence.” The connection here with Christopher Le Brun are the sketches he made for the Parables on display in Liverpool Cathedral.

In general Graham Lynch’s White Books remind me of Claude Debussy’s Préludes in their use of pictorial and literary imagery, and the general unity of thought juxtaposed with a diversity of style.

It is unnecessary to include a biography of Graham Lynch as his excellent webpage will give the listener all they need to know. It is helpful to recall that the composer shows an extremely eclectic style, ranging from tangos, by way of serialism to a post-modern Romanticism.

The liner notes feature an introductory essay by the pianist, Paul Sánchez. The notes on the music are by the composer. There are brief resumes of Lynch and the two pianists. The booklet is illustrated with three art works by Sir Christopher Le Brun as well as photos of the principals. I think a more imaginative illustration for the CD cover would have made the presentation a wee bit more attractive. I have noted before that Lynch’s prose tends to be on the esoteric side; it is assumed that all his listeners are au fait with a whole sweep of artistic, political, and literary philosophies, which might not always be helpful.

The performance is bewitching from start to finish, although there is nothing to compare it to. The sound is ideal.

This is an appealing CD. All the music here is accessible, well-written and musically rewarding.

John France

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