Howard Skempton: The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
Skempton takes on Coleridge’s poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and brings it to life, using just solo voice (baritone) and small chamber ensemble. The result is a stunning, dark and hypnotic journey led by the almost constant, magnetic presence of Roderick Williams, for whose voice and dramatic capabilities the piece was conceived.
Only the Sound Remains takes its name from the opening line of The Mill-Water by English poet Edward Thomas. The piece is an evocation of loss and decay, where textures and melodies mysteriously recur, while others simply fade beautifully out of aural reach. It is written for 16 players, including solo viola.
This is a stunning première recording of two recent works by one of Britain’s finest living composers.
Brian Elias: Electra Mourns
The title work on this new album by Brian Elias sets text from Electra, a fifth-century BC play by the Greek dramatist Sophocles. It is sung in the original ancient Greek by mezzo-soprano Susan Bickley, accompanied by cor anglais and string orchestra, and recounts the tale of Electra and the vengeance that she and her brother Orestes take on their mother and stepfather following the murder of their father.
Continuing Elias’s fascination with ancient Greece, Geranos is a dramatic and rhythmic ensemble piece inspired by a ritual ‘crane dance’ associated with Theseus, the mythical king of Athens.
In contrast, the two song cycles on this album are set to texts by English poets. Meet Me in the Green Glen for unaccompanied solo voice is a setting of five John Clare poems, here performed by both Susan Bickley and Roderick Williams, and Once did I breathe another’s breath for baritone and piano was commissioned for the 2013 Ludlow Weekend of English Song; the poems (some anonymous) were all written in the first half of the seventeenth century.
Kate Whitley: I am I say
This new release by Kate Whitley in NMC’s Debut Discs series comprises a wide-ranging repertoire – from piano miniatures and chamber works to a concerto and the album title track for children’s choir and The Multi-Story Orchestra. With lyrics by poet Sabrina Mahfouz that imagine a world which ‘beats with beauty’ and cautions against human abuse of nature around us, I am I say is performed by soprano Sarah-Jane Lewis, bass Ashley Riches and a choir made up of children from three South London primary schools.
The wildly expressive Viola Concerto was Kate’s first orchestral work and was written for Shiry Rashkovsky when they were both students. Five Piano Pieces, recorded here by pianist Rolf Hind, is made up of five self-contained movements – declamatory, spacious, aggressive, sad and triumphant – each comprising repeated sections evoking a different and distinct mood. Three Violin and Piano Pieces is inspired by Janáček’s Viola Sonata and has a similarly tense and fragmentary character, with beautiful intertwined dialogue between both instruments, and Duo for Violin and Viola was written for a choreography inspired by a sculpture called Wrestlers by Henri Gaudier Brzeska.