Geoffrey POOLE (b.1949)
Rhapsody (2015) [12.27]
Guto Pryderi PUW (b.1971)
Violin Concerto ‘Soft stillness’ (2014) [19.10]
David MATTHEWS (b.1943)
Romanza, Op.119a (2012) [11.38]
Sadie HARRISON (b.1965)
Aurea Luce (2015) [9.05]
Judith WEIR (b.1954)
Atlantic Drift [9.29]
Michael BERKELEY (b.1948)
Michael NYMAN (b.1944)
Taking it as read [3.57]
Madeleine Mitchell (violin)
Nigel Clayton (piano)
Cerys Jones (violin)
BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Edwin Outwater
rec. 2016/17, Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff; St John the Evangelist, Oxford; RCM Studios, London; Menuhin Hall, Stoke d’Abernon
DIVINE ART DDA25160 [76.15]
This collection of recordings, all of them world premières, is an eloquent testimony to the artistry and dedication of Madeleine Mitchell. Several of the pieces here were commissioned or first performed by her, and although the reduction of some of the scores (originally written with orchestral accompaniment) to piano versions might be regretted, the appearance of the works on CD so soon after their first performances is nonetheless most welcome.
I was present at the Cardiff performance of Guto Puw’s Violin Concerto given in May 2016 as part of the Vale of Glamorgan Festival, following on from its world première two years earlier with the same soloist during the Bangor Music Festival. Perhaps I might repeat my comments then as published on the Seen and Heard section of this site. “[The] concerto…found slow material framing more energetic sections, and the sense of atmospheric stillness…was amply supplied by the inward playing of Madeleine Mitchell at the beginning of the second movement. The concerto, as so often with this composer’s music, reflected literary sources – in this case the scene in Shakespeare’s The merchant of Venice, which also inspired Vaughan Williams’s Serenade to Music, with the second movement directly quoting the lines ‘soft stillness and the night become the touches of sweet harmony’. The faster material in the first movement again brought echoes of Delius, most noticeably the music that the older composer wrote for the haunting scene in Flecker’s Hassan, where the ghosts in the garden are driven back into their graves by the wind rising through the trees. Rather oddly the composer observed in his programme note that the concerto ‘in its present form’ comprised two movements, with the implication that maybe there might be a finale yet to come; but the work is already a very substantial whole…and it is hard to imagine what could follow the extended and very effective dying fall at the end of the slow second meditation. The piece was superbly played by all concerned.” I note from the composer’s extensive booklet note with this CD that the reference to “in its present form” has now been removed, and so we should regard the work as complete as it stands – and very satisfactorily complete it is, too. I should reiterate my enthusiasm for the work itself, the performers, and the work of the BBC engineers. The close scrutiny of the microphone deployment serves also to demonstrate the superlatively athletic playing of Madeleine Mitchell, with every note perfectly in its proper place. The enthusiastic applause which greeted the performance in the concert hall has been removed.
The disc opens with Geoffrey Poole’s Rhapsody, a work which begins with an immediately appealing lyrical line which is then subjected to livelier treatment in a Bartókian manner. Although the piece was originally performed with orchestral accompaniment, it sounds idiomatic with a piano, especially when the part is given with such enthusiasm by Nigel Clayton, and there are only occasional moments when one might have welcomed a bigger and more forthright approach. The Romanza by David Matthews was similarly written with alternative accompaniments (piano or strings) in mind. Like the Poole, its larger gestures sometimes suggest the need for bigger forces, but once again Clayton rises to the occasion and provides much of what is needed. Both these works by composers born in the 1940s have a sense of communication, which immediately engages the listener, as indeed does the sublimely hieratic Aurea Luce with its plainchant theme and echoes of resounding bells, which recall the ‘tintinnabulation’ of Arvo Pärt.
The three pieces for unaccompanied violin duo by Judith Weir feature both original and traditional melodies, and it is a tribute to the composer’s absorption of Hebridean style that they form such an effective unit, although they were composed at different times and for different occasions. Michael Berkeley’s Veilleuse is a beautifully delicate little gem with an impassioned central section providing an effective contrast, and a solemn conclusion. In the programme notes included in the booklet the various composers featured have provided illuminating comments, but for the final item on the disc Michael Nyman has left the violinist to supply the material; and she observes the resemblance between Nyman’s music and a Welsh hymn tune. I would have described it as a folk melody rather than a hymn tune; but whatever it is, it is a beautiful piece with a rhapsodic feel far removed from Nyman’s often more mechanical style. It makes a lovely conclusion to an enchanting disc.
Paul Corfield Godfrey