One of the most grown-up review sites around

54,416 reviews
and more.. and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here



International mailing

Founder: Len Mullenger                                    Editor in Chief:John Quinn             



Usk recordings

Hugh WOOD (b.1932)          
Poem Op.35 (1993) [7:49]
Huw WATKINS (b.1976)
Corusaction; Reflection (1998) [6:41]
Timothy SALTER (b.1942)
Chimera (2003) [11:25]
Philip CASHIAN (b.1963)
Stobrod's Violin (1999) [7:03]
Helen GRIME (b.1981)
Romance (2003) [3:59]
Colin MATTHEWS (b.1946)
Chaconne with Chorale; Moto Perpetuo (1988) [5:55]
Michael Zev GORDON (b.1963)
False Relations (1994) [9:33]
Daniel GIORGETTI (b.1971)
Dialogue (2000) [6:38]
Alexandra Wood (violin)
Huw Watkins (piano)
rec. 2005, Norden Farm, Maidenhead, Berkshire



I am always intrigued by contemporary music recital CDs with new names – they offer hope for some of the scores I have gathering dust under my desk. Once premièred and all too often largely forgotten thereafter, it is every composer’s dream to have their work preserved on record. This gives at least the possibility of a larger audience through broadcasts, a few purchases on the back of hopefully positive reviews, maybe even the occasional commission from that rare breed of patron – the appreciative, artistically aware - and maybe even wealthy - client who wants to invest in that most intangible of arts: music.

There are some composers who many will recognise here, but excellent performances are produced from both well-established and newer names – making this a superb showcase for some fine works of art. The traditional nature of the violin and piano duo means that the listener always has a familiar point of reference. There is nothing to be afraid of, really, so read on.

Hugh Wood’s Poem opens the CD impressively, with a declamatory statement from both piano and violin. Wood admits that the piano is in a largely accompanying role, with the violin evolving a music which is ‘straightforwardly lyrical ... one long tune.’ Much of this piece is rhapsodic, almost impressionistic in nature, with some flowing arpeggiations in the piano and openly romantic melodic motifs from the violin. It’s a walk in a flower garden, with some dramatic and colourful shoots alongside delicate and dew-dropped blooms – with only the occasional thistle.

Huw Watkins’ Coruscation; Reflection was written for the violinist Daniel Bell. The music springs from pentatonic scales, which almost invariably have a dual effect of exoticism and recognisable open tonalities. The first piece is the more dramatic and angular of the two, with the piano often leaping over the violin’s register and stabbing with rhythmic accents in the bass. The second of the two works was written some months after the first, and is a more lyrical and atmospheric Reflection on the material in the first.

Well programmed after the quiet nature of Watkins’ second piece, Timothy Salter’s Chimera opens with playful staccatos and linear counterpoint in a ‘restless’ marking. Written for the duo which plays it here, this is the longest of the works on this CD. In a single movement, much of the continuity is provided by a rhythmic device in which semiquavers alternate between groups of five and three, but with fluctuating tempi. Echoes of the opening figures resonate throughout, and the contrasts between Bartók-like power playing and moments of reflective quiet are effectively balanced. This is a tougher nut to crack than some of the other pieces, being less explicitly tonal or thematic over its 11 minutes, but it is never less than intriguing, and will reward concentrated listening.

Philip Cashian’s Stobrod’s Violin takes its title from a character in Charles Frazier’s novel Cold Mountain. High, sustained notes from the violin are frosted with ‘icy filigree piano detail’ in the opening section, and in the second half introduces a ‘hymn-like chorale’ upon which the violin is allowed to comment in more lyrical and passionate mode. Gorgeously atmospheric, I like this work’s understated and relatively simple approach, which beguiles the listener into accepting the composer’s sound-world as if it were a short story.   

Romance by Helen Grime runs from Stobrod’s Violin almost like a second movement, but soon shows its individuality in its subtly flowing harmonic rhythm. This piece is like a musical fragment, poetic and fragrant. The composer admits to a ‘somewhat incomplete’ ending, but the piece’s close is more suggestive of a further organic unfolding in silence rather than any kind of disorientating cut-off.

Chaconne with Chorale by Colin Matthews was written for the eighty-fifth birthday of the composer’s friend Berthold Goldschmidt, and Moto Perpetuo for another friend’s birthday, Elliot Carter’s wife Helen. The Chaconne takes the form of a slowly moving, almost rumbling bass line, over which the violin develops an extended monologue. The Chorale pops out like a fish jumping in water at first, and then brings the work to a grand apotheosis, before finally descending into the dark regions of the opening. Moto Perpetuo does what it says on the tin, with the piano playing a series of ostinati, and the violin adding punchily rhythmic comments over the top. The instrument’s roles are temporarily reversed, and the whole thing ends in a crisp climax – a superb miniature.

Michael Zev Gordon’s False Relations brings us back into more dreamy realms. The title refers to the juxtaposition of some of the source material, from the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, with Gordon’s own modern idiom. It also refers to the ‘exquisite example’ of the Renaissance understanding of a ‘false relation’ as a particular kind of dissonance occurring as part of a cadence or resolution in Robert Johnson’s Pavana from the aforementioned Fitzwilliam Virginal Book. All this amounts to a rich and colourful duo in which the piano covers a wide range in dialogue with the violin, with many an expressive moment, not the least of which being the more direct comment on Johnson’s Pavana toward the end.

Daniel Giorgetti’s Dialogue opens with what at first impresses as being the most modern and ‘far out’ of the pieces here, but the ear soon tunes in to the verbal discourse and wit which the instruments are having between themselves. The piano is played in part with muted lower strings, making for gruff answers to the violin’s frivolous pizzicati and absurdly high pyrotechnics. In the composer’s own words, ‘the dialogue concludes with a sense of agreement ... much like a bickering elderly couple, finding mutual solace in capturing pieces of a distant memory.’

I have greatly enjoyed the musicianship of Alexandra Wood and Huw Watkins on this disc, and wish to compliment them on their excellent taste in providing us with such an intriguing and stimulating programme of new music. The instruments are superbly recorded, and I have no hesitation in giving the thumbs up to such an enterprising release.

Dominy Clements


Usk recordings




Return to Index

Untitled Document

Reviews from previous months
Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the discs reviewed. details
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.