Reflections on classical music, recordings and performances
Friday, 21 December 2018
CD Reviews - December 2018
Edward Gardnerand the BBC Symphony Orchestra are joined by James Ehnes for a taut performance of William Walton’s (1902-1983) Viola Concerto. The Concerto was written for the pioneering viola player, Lionel Tertis in 1928/29, but Tertis rejected the work as too modern, so it was taken up for the first performance by Paul Hindemith. Tertis later realised his mistake, and performed the work frequently, helping it become established as a major work in the instrument’s repertoire. Walton combines bluesy harmonies and jazzy rhythms in the opening movement with beautiful lyrical lines for the soloist, relished here by Ehnes, as well as typically spicy writing for woodwind and brass. The central Scherzo has busy, quirky rhythms in a kind of off-kilter, swirling dance, and the finale launches with a humorous, bouncy melody from the bassoon, soon picked up by the soloist. Towards the end of the movement, the solo viola is accompanied by a repeated bass clarinet pattern, and Ehnes is particularly sweet-toned here. Gardner and the BBCSO are tight throughout, and Gardner manages particularly well the balance of Walton’s often weighty orchestration against the mellow solo instrument. The Concerto is joined here by two much later works, firstly a late transcription by Walton (assisted by Malcolm Arnold) of his own String Quartet No. 2, as a Sonata for String Orchestra. Walton revised some material, particularly in the first movement, and he frequently sets material for a solo quartet against full string orchestra, in the manner of a concerto grosso. The first movement contains a rather Elgarian fugue, and the Presto which follows is fraught and somewhat impatient in mood, and Gardner brings out the detail whilst achieving an appropriately pushed tempo. The violas and cellos are particularly dark and brooding in the slow movement, and the finale has excitingly driven rhythmic energy throughout. The disc the concludes with Walton’s Partita for Orchestra, a more overtly celebratory work, with its wallop of an opening for full orchestra, with a lot going on and some truly virtuosic demands placed on the orchestral players. The central Pastorale Siciliana is more subdued, with a lilting, meandering duet for viola and oboe, followed by lots of solo writing for various instruments, and the playful Giga Burlesca is great fun. Gardner and the BBCSO are on top form, and the three pieces here, whilst all very much ‘Waltonian’ in their orchestral writing, show off well the often-underestimated range of mood in his work, from darkly brooding, through liltingly lyrical, to full-on extrovert fun. Walton, W. 2018. Violin Concerto, Partita for Orchestra, Sonata for String Orchestra. James Ehnes, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Edward Gardner. Hybrid Super Audio Compact Disc. Chandos CHSA 5210.
The London based amateur chamber choir Lumen, directed by Benjamin Thiele-Long, has released a fascinating disc of new unaccompanied choral works. The recording is the result of a great project to create a platform for new composers of sacred and spiritual choral pieces. Thiele-Long and the choir selected the composers via a successful kickstarter campaign, and as a result, they have recorded brand new pieces by twelve different composers. The range of styles is impressive, yet all the works would be accessible for most good amateur choirs, so it provides a great opportunity for choirs who are looking for something new. You can read more about the project and some of the composers on my blog, but the works on offer here range from the simple but effective harmonies of Sam Olivier’s ‘There is no dusk to be’, to the more challenging, surging chromatic lines and jazzy harmonies of Simon Whiteley’s ‘The Way of Life’. Eastbourne-based composer Clive Whitburn’s‘Who is my neighbour?’ puts biblical texts from Luke and Matthew up against data on migrant deaths, contrasting the pulsing, chanting statistics with a keening soprano line, somehow adding to the moral challenge through the simplicity of its melody. And Joanna Gill’s‘Safe in the arms of He’ is equally moving, in its touchingly intimate setting of a text written by parents on the death of their son from cancer. The thirteen-strong choir show incredible versatility in tackling such a broad range of styles and moods, and despite some occasional tuning issues in a few of the more stretching pieces, they give committed and convincing performances throughout. Inevitably with a range of new compositions such as this, one will be drawn to some more than others, but this is an impressive display of new choral composition talent, and I hope that other choirs will pick up many of the pieces. Do check out my blog for more on the pieces, with links to videos about the composers and their works. (Read more about the background to the Lumen de Lumine project here. And read more about other music by Clive Whitburn here). Various. 2018. Lumen de Lumine. Lumen Chamber Choir, Benjamin Thiele-Long. Compact Disc. Convivium Records CR046.
(Edited versions of these reviews first appeared inGScene, December 2018)