Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Music Webmaster Len Mullenger:

(b. 1941)
Merciless Beauty (1996) *
The Calm (1974) **
A Vision (1991) ***
Voices from the Calm (1974) ****

James Bowman (counter-tenor) * ** ****
City of London Sinfonia *
Neil Jenkins (tenor) ***
Academy of Saint Martin in the Fields ***
all conducted by the composer
rec London, 1998/1999
ASV CD DCA 1059 [66.08]

Burgon's music is well known across the world though perhaps his name is not so well recognised. Such is the comfortable fate of writers of TV and film music.

Having provided many scores for British television - a major export area - his style is familiar from Brideshead Revisited to Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. His concert music has not registered at all strongly.

This disc of world premiere recordings helps redress the situation.

All but three of the twenty one tracks are 'vehicles' for the human voice whether the pure icy-flame of Bowman's counter-tenor or Neil Jenkins' warmly honeyed tenor.

Merciless Beauty sets Blake, Chaucer (as in the title) and four poems by Kit Wright. The textures are open and lie candidly open to hear with no cloying or confusion. Britten might well have been a model and the quality of the voice makes him an obvious parallel. For my money Burgon accesses a more yielding and humane spirit than Britten through the orchestral skein. The settings also had me thinking of Michael Nyman in Prospero's Books. These are a most memorable set of songs - with 'Tune for an ice cream van' trippingly done with adventurous style.

The Calm is an instrumental ballet score with parts for gaelic harp, violin and trumpet. It has a wandering Celtic touch and an Armenian undulation suggesting the exoticism of Hovhaness all in a small span. Other elements include some trumpet 'baroquery' and a plangent quintet in which James Bowman joins himself (multi-tracked).

A Vision sets poems by John Clare.This is even more Brittenesque, full of insect imaginings, bleak, real charm (the skirling violin in Song's Eternity) and cold high poignancy in Song.

Voices from the Calm take us back to the extraordinary voice of James Bowman. The orchestral 'tissue' and the vocal part are all candle flames, frost and Gregorian chant echoes. Anyone at all sympathetic to Stanford's Bluebird or Britten's Hymn to St Cecilia will want to hear this.

ASV's usual high production values are in full evidence.

Music of chilly beauty, appositely articulated both at artistic and technical levels. Full texts. Satisfying notes from Terry Barfoot.

Rob Barnett

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