Music written by Michael Berkley,Sadie Harrison,David Matthews,Michael Nyman,Geoffrey Poole,Guto Pryderi Puw, and Judith Weir
Released on Divine Art Records
Well, here’s a pretty exciting CD to receive and listen to, so excuse me a little while I tune in my auditory senses and share a few words about it! A set of world premiere recordings from some of the finest of the UK’s contemporary composers, always seems like an early xmas pressy to me. Also, the enclosed booklet provide are a mine of information and a pure delight to read, with composers programme notes, their biographies and the performers biogs included too, which help us enter into both the performers and composers worlds, equally. All these pieces were new to me in fact, so I eagerly devoured the album at one sitting, so to speak, when i got the first opportunity!
‘Rhapsody’ by Geoffrey Poole, a work for violin and piano, funnily enough, not in a humerous way of course, is actually with two versions available, written with, as the composer tells us, with an idiomatic feel, either the accompaniment of orchestra, or, as here, piano, both totally valid and in form and keeping with the composers ideal. In fact the premiere received it’s ‘live’ premiere in 2015, with Mitchell and the Stroud Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Jonathan Trim. As you expect, virtuosity shines throughout this work, with emotional intensity, equally balanced against movements of song like quality, with a calmness. Virtuosity in composition, as well as performance, with moments of pizzicato, harmonics, cascading arpeggios, etc, all the while Mitchell’s tone is balanced by the wonderful accompaniment of Nigel Clayton on piano. With sections of beauty, contrasted by intensity, which at times is almost overwhelming, is the feeling I get whilst listening to this opening work on the CD. A truly inspired work and totally convincing performance of it, and a good intro to the album.
‘Violin Concerto – Soft stillness’ by Guto Pryderi Puw comes to light in my ears, exploding in a sensuous arousal of musical tones, as the next track in. Set in two movements, instead of the formal tradition of three, this is a beautiful, and at times, tense, beginning to this work, led by the solo violin, drawing the listener in, before we’re taken into the 1st movement proper. Inspired by lines from Shakespeare’s ’The Merchant of Venice’, the compositional result is, well, a tremendous work, with much utilised imagery. some terrific orchestral playing from the BBC National Orchestra of Wales with Edwin Outwater (conductor), providing such a powerful accompaniment to counter the virtuosic, intense power of expression by the soloist. The orchestration is truly wonderful, and clear, as sometimes very open and spare, allowing the violin to weave it’s way in and out of the texture, whilst at other times, such psychological tension is created, with almost overwhelming power, which takes us on its compositional journey, and then, the composer provides us with a cracking ending to the movement – a moment to enjoy! The slow orchestral intro to the 2nd movement, with some beautifully toned solo playing, takes us to a completely different tonal world. This one, haunting in it’s reflective beauty, with some, again, inspired scoring, the melodic and harmonic invention, is sublime in feeling, as the sounds wash over us, weaving sometimes, it feels, it’s way around us. In concert, I can only imagine what effect would be, and how the music had hold of the audience, because at times, you almost hold your breath, as not to miss a single note, the long held harmonics. A stunning piece of music, dynamically expressive, brought to a gentle close, by a long drawn out note, dying away, thus leaving us, well, leaving us to reflect and breath once more.
David Matthews piece ‘Romanza’ commissioned by Madeleine, and similar to Poole’s piece, there are actually two versions of this work. One for accompaniment of orchestra, which was premiered in Blythburg Church, Suffolk, by Prometheus Ensemble and Edmond Fivet (conductor) and the then at it’s London premiere, at the Proms, performed by Orchestra Nova and George Wass (conductor). The other one, as heard here, for accompaniment of piano, with the premiere with Mitchell and Nigel Clayton, taking place in Aberdeen Art Gallery, also in 2012. It’s ideal then that we have Nigel Clayton on this recording, with his ‘live’ performance experience insight. Well, I say accompaniment, this is not really the case, as it is truly a composition where both players are almost equal partners, in their musical exploits! Even from the outset, the two instruments, discuss, parry each other in a musical dual, also, sharing each others melodic and harmonic feelings. Add into this mix, some tremendous rhythmic phrasing, the composition takes us along such a natural path, that Matthews wants to take the listener, to share his inspirational music, and inviting us in to join him. In the dance, a waltz, which a major part of the work, is not you may think, but is on a totally different level, and absolutely magnificent it is too – dancing in an entirely original way!!
With ‘Aurea Luce’ by Sadie Harrison, we have Nigel Clayton joining Madeleine again, in another superb work. Commissioned by Madeleine Mitchell and Geoffrey Poole, who had previously performed her work ‘ …an angel reads my open book…..’, and because of this the composer then had completely in her mind and heart, the performers, their stylistic qualities of the intended soloist, right from square one, so to speak. Doing this, it enables the composer to be able to write a work on a personal, as well as musical level. Knowing this, all the musical, creatively inspired ideas that are written, will open up, in a way, in performance, totally different to writing a work for a soloist you’ve never met, or heard. Based on a plainsong melody, sung for the Feast of St Peter’s chair, in Rome, where the actual premiere took place. From the beautiful entrance of the violin, we enter a musical space of thoughtful reflection. The violin spins it’s mystical magic, by stating the melody, whilst bare chordal piano supports it. As the music develops, creating an intensity of sound, through passages, or musical paragraphs, if you like, to the story of the composers creation. such an amazing musical imagery, almost visual, feeling is created in the listener, with an intense perfomance, as both players have total insight, understanding, but more importantly, a passionate belief in both the music and composer, which takes us along with it totally. This piece is totally convincing as a work of musical art, as it is taking us into an intense, but also intimate imagination. The premiere of this work actually took place in another St Peter’s, in Shaftesbury, performed by the commissioners, in 2015 and the work is dedicated to them.
‘Atlantic Drift’ by Judith Weir, is a set of three pieces for two violins. Here Madeleine is joined by Cery’s Jones, a true work for two violins it is! The first movement ’Sleep Sound ida Mornin’, based on a traditional tune the composer heard in the Orkney islands, though then, it was heard on a banjo. It brings to us a totally free spirited, island dance feel, and certainly put a spring in my feet – well, in my head, a great duet performance. The next movement ‘Atlantic Drift’ although an original melody, has the feel, again, of a scottish isle tune, though this time Hebridean, and beautiful convincing it is is too. ‘Rain and Mist are on the Mountain, I’d Better Buy Some Shoes’ is the final movement – I love the title, it made me smile – well, actually this is a four-movement, movement! A lovely set of four very short pieces round off a wonderful work for two violins. Premiered at Wigmore hall in 2005, it closes an excellent work in the catalogue of violin duets.
Michael Berkeley’s ‘Veilleuse’ (Nightwatch), is the next of these works written for Madeleine Mitchell. Commissioned in 1997, for the Belgrade Festival, it uses not only the slow movement of the composers early violin sonata, but also utilises tonal material from his earliest string piece ‘Meditations’. As the booklet states, it is a slightly melancholic work, but also quite restless too, with passages of such intense power bursting out, sometimes catching the listener off guard completely. The work is such a great, unified, and expressive composition, that the composers creative inspirations draw us along, into it’s wake, that we don’t want it to actually stop. The intense feelings, both head and heart here, take us there and we’re left wondering, wow, what happened, as our heart races and our ears are now so taut and tuned into the music in equal measure – terrific stuff!!
The final work on this recording is ’Taking it as Read’ written for Madeleine by Michael Nyman. Composed in two short movements, appropriately titled No1 and No 2, this is a truly delightful work, and a pleasure for your auditory nerves and heart, in equal measure. With a gentle, quiet opening, Nyman introduces a melody, which has the violin ’sing’ – a more understandable explanation is in the programme note, written by the composer, and included in the booklet. The second movement comes straight in, without giving you a moment to reflect on the first. Although in a different key, this time in E flat major, as opposed to the first’s G major, we would expect a little bit of a musical jolt here, maybe? But no, here the contrasting harmonic feel at once gives a pleasant stimulation of our sense’s. We now have a variation on the melodic idea, from the first movement, thereby linking both. The melody itself, which Mitchell states herself, is actually like a Welsh tune. Taking this melodic phrase, and it’s variation, to reach a climax point, before resolving into a short coda to finish the composers work. Both Mitchell, and Nigel Clayton (piano) are totally in tune – no pun intended – with the composers thoughts and inspirational expression. With these two short movements, they bring the listener to a conclusion of a really expressive and creative project – 7 composers works written for superb violinist Madeleine Mitchell, by some of Britain’s greatest contemporary artists, with the interpretation of each captured on one disc by the dedicatee. As throughout the whole recording, Madeleine Mitchell’s playing is a total wonder to behold – auditory wise, of course. With such an emotional input, as on all the compositions on this CD, with the works written for her specifically, she has got such a personal and musical insight into the pieces, by having direct contact with each composer during their composition, this becomes even more obvious on repeated listening. Having said that though, I have to say from my personal experience, that from the very first hearing, every single note, phrase, melody, etc, was exquisite on both ear and heart, it just got better and better – a CD, which I believe, will stay on your CD player, and the sounds in your head, for a long, long time. I will certainly be playing these tracks on my show ’Trust Me…..I’m A Compser!’ so tune into Fab Radio International each Saturday afternoon to hear a selection!!