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Found in Winter
Winter Arrives [5:21]
Far out in the Ocean [3:31]
Farewell Ice (2018) [7:09]
Requiem – Anna Akhmatova [10:50]
Found in the Rain [2:40]
The Bronze Horseman [11:30]
Peace [5:10]
Before Time Began [5:15]
Day of Judgement [9:19]
All pieces arranged and orchestrated by John Lenehan
Helen Habershon (clarinet)
John Anderson (oboe)
Andrew Fuller (cello)
John Lenehan (piano)
London Primavera Orchestra/Anthony Halstead
rec. 2018, St Paul’s School, London
DIVINE ART DDA25191 [60:49]

I struggled to get my head around the batting order of this CD. Which works, I wondered, are associated with the title Found in Winter? The first three attractive pieces seemed like possible candidates: these include ‘Winter Arrives’, ‘Far Out in the Ocean’ and ‘Farewell Ice’. Is this part of a suite? I guess not, as the mood, orchestration, and the use of the clarinet solo and piano would suggest each is a discrete piece. Then the Requiem: Anna Akhmatova seems to have little to do with winter, except possibly by extension. It is based on a harrowing tale set during the Russian Revolution of a mother standing outside a prison in support of her incarcerated son. Only here is there something in the music that could be described as genuine angst, reflecting the horror of the age – but not for long. The Bronze Horseman would seem to be about madness and a river breaking its banks – it could be winter or any other season.  Musically the clarinet and cello do provide some sense of austerity and long dark nights. Yet even here, the mood is gentle rather than being disturbing as demanded by the story. The final ‘appassionato’ is the most impressive piece on this disc.

‘The Day of Judgement’ is hardly Hieronymus Bosch-ian in its terror or horror. There is no sense of hell, damned souls and monstrous punishment: it is more like a Thames-side summer’s day picnic. Very pleasant, and occasionally raising of the temperature, but hardly reflecting the label. ‘Peace’ does live up to its title: gentle and introspective with its lovely oboe solo. It does not, however, as the liner notes suggest, display ‘bleakness.’

Finally, let’s look at ‘Before Time Began’. This could be about anything: the liner notes suggest that:
 ‘When we step out of our normal concept of time…we are aware of vast landscapes of infinite imagination. It is here that we gain access to this wonderful state of inspiration where purity and truth exist; beyond that place of logical thinking, censorship and critical agenda; rather a state of pre-thought, a place of knowing where we can follow our own inner guidance.’

This seems a rather precious build up for what is a straight-forward (but delightful) little meditation, with one or two syncopated irruptions. Once again, we are ‘In a Summer Garden’ rather than debating the Big Bang Theory or ruminating about the Philosophy of Time.

I am not sure what the portioning of work is between the composer and the arranger. What is John Lenehan’s input? I guess that he does the orchestration and perhaps tightens the formal structure of each piece, but this is not stated.

All the works are well-performed by all concerned and the recording is ideal. The liner notes leave much to be desired. For example, there are no dates given for any of these works (except one). The commentary on each number is minimal except the Requiem and ‘Before Time Began’. The composer’s date of birth is not stated. No-one really likes to admit when they were born, but for reviews and musical history it does help to situate the composer’s achievement. Two fugitive, but enjoyable poems from William Saunders collection Yesterday’s Dreams are included. The notes explain that he was Habershon’s father, whose verse has inspired her.

For details of the composer’s biography and works I suggest looking at her excellent website.

I can understand that this ‘cross-over’ music is exceptionally popular on Classic FM (liner notes), yet it seems to me to lack variety and, more importantly, inherent depth. It is written in a gently sub-minimalist, pop-infused style that is typically pleasant, but never challenging. I found it difficult to listen to all 60 minutes of this CD; it all seemed to blur into one long piece for me. Even the potentially tragic and morbid plot behind the Requiem does not develop into anything particularly challenging or horrendous.  With one or two exceptions, every bar of every piece is wistful music, introverted, but never really exploding into passion or anger.

If the listener likes lyrical melodies, picturesque titles and repetitive accompaniments they will thoroughly enjoy this disc, but I found that I needed to go away and listen to something grittier after reviewing it. In fact, I chose Richard Rodney Bennett’s Symphony No.2.

John France

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