Cheryl FRANCES-HOAD (b.1980)
The Glory Tree:
Memoria (2002) [17:23]
My Fleeting Angel (2005) [10:13]
The Snow Woman (2007) [6:53]
The Ogre Lover (2007) [8:07]
Invocation (2008) [3:58]
Bouleumata (2008) [3:18]
Melancholia (1999) [13:26]
The Glory Tree (2005) [13:45]
Nicholas Daniel (oboe), Lendvai String Trio, Ensemble na Mara, Oliver Coates (cello), Alisdair Beatson (piano), Natalia Lomeiko (violin), Leonid Gorokhov (cello), Students of the Yehudi Menuhin School, Catriona Scott (clarinet), London Mozart Trio, Natalie Raybould (soprano), Kreisler Ensemble, Matilda Hofman (director)
rec. 22-24 September 2008, Music Room, Champs Hill, West Sussex DDD

Cheryl Frances-Hoad is an exciting name in new music. Winner of multiple awards, including most recently two British Composer Awards, Frances-Hoad is rapidly forging a successful career as a composer. This, her debut CD, comprises chamber works written over a ten year period, and shows something of the range that this impressive composer has to offer.

The opening work, Memoria, is a Prelude and Fugue for oboe/cor anglais, string trio and piano. Nicholas Daniel’s stunningly expressive opening lines are immediately engaging, and the piano chords which support it provide a wonderful sense of atmosphere. The momentum gathers, and there is a sense of expansive emotion within the work. Frances-Hoad’s compositional style hints at the Romantic, but within a modern musical language. It is immediately clear from the opening of this disc that emotional expression is an important factor in her writing, and this first track demonstrates the essence of that extraordinarily well. The piece is written as a tribute to Sidney ‘Jock’ Sutcliffe, who was one of Cheryl Frances-Hoad’s mentors at the Menuhin School, and takes its basis from Bach’s second cello suite, although no direct quotes can be heard. My Fleeting Angel, for piano trio, demonstrates some exciting rhythmic energy and is based on a short story by Sylvia Plath. Frances-Hoad’s music often takes other works of art as a starting point, be they other pieces of music (such as the Bach reference in the previous piece), literature or poetry. The central scherzo is a particularly dazzling display of coruscating lines and changing rhythms, building towards a strong and arresting climax. The charming waltz that follows has a sense of ambiguous charm.

Natalia Lomeiko’s dazzling violin playing comes to the fore in The Snow Woman, a 2007 work which is based on a Shaman story. The three movements are played without a pause, and the demands on the violinist are considerable. Lomeiko’s playing is outstanding, with a wonderful sense of character and impressive control of the double-stopped lines.

The predominance of string writing on this disc perhaps stems from Frances-Hoad’s background as a cellist. There is certainly a sense of naturalness and understanding in her strong chamber works. The Ogre Lover comprises seven short, linked episodes, based on poetry by Ted Hughes. There is a sense of playfulness here, with a variety of textures within the episodes describing dream-like images. This is a piece which appeals to the imagination and demonstrates Frances-Hoad’s compositional craft.

The rich and luxurious sound of Invocation, scored for seven cellos and double-bass, comes as a complete contrast to the brightness of the previous work. Here, Frances-Hoad has captured a wonderful resonance of sound, and I found this short work deeply touching. The solo cello part is beautifully performed by Leonid Gorokhov, and elements of the ensemble writing reminded me a little of the Vaughan Williams Tallis Fantasia. This piece also exists in duo versions for cello and double-bass with piano, and takes its material from the piano trio work, Melancholia. Bouleumata for solo clarinet is just over three minutes long, and within that short space of time, demonstrates the virtuoso range of the instrument. There is a sense of natural flow and drama, and moments brought to mind the clarinet writing in Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, in their sense of scope and expression. This is a piece which deserves to become a staple part of the solo clarinet repertoire.

With Messiaen already in mind, the piano writing at the opening of Melancholia also draws parallels. Frances-Hoad’s sumptuous harmonic language is powerful and expressive by equal measure, and her compositional language already, in 1999 when this was composed, shows maturity. The playing here, by the London Mozart Trio, is committed and dramatic, bringing out the emotional depths of the work effectively. The piece takes the form of a theme and three variations, and is based on a work by Edvard Munch.

The final work on the disc is the song-cycle, The Glory Tree, which is a setting of an Anglo-Saxon text for soprano and ensemble in five movements. Natalie Raybould’s clear and convincing soprano voice handles the considerable demands impressively, and the accompanying ensemble brings out the drama in the work well. Frances-Hoad seems to have a natural affinity for working with text. The ensemble writing is well balanced and makes use of an enticing range of textures and moods.

Overall, this is a disc which achieves excellence throughout, both in the musical material and in the quality of performance.

Cheryl Frances-Hoad’s music is refreshingly engaging and unapologetic, with a strong sense of identity and emotional depth. The assembled musicians maintain a high level of expression and communicate the music very well. This makes an essential part of any contemporary music listening library.

Carla Rees

Refreshingly engaging and unapologetic, with a strong sense of identity and emotional depth.