LABELS: British Music Label
ALBUM TITLE: Collection: An English Rhapsody
WORKS: Rhapsody; Fantasy Sonata; Rhapsody; Phantasie; Violin Sonata No. 1; Elegy
PERFORMER: Holywell Ensemble
CATALOGUE NO: BML 010 DDD
‘Songs from the Exotic’, comprising nine new works for voice, clarinet and piano played by Tapestry, is an outstanding disc in every way. The performances are exemplary and the stylistic range of music is wide and need not be feared by those wary of contemporary music. Andrew Sparling plays on both C and bass clarinets in addition to the standard B flat instrument and his handling of ethnic-sounding quartertones in Finnissy’s Beuk o’ Newcassel Sangs is remarkable. The Basket (Hayes) and Syrpa (Hallgrimsson) are particularly enjoyable and the amusing Balanescuby Laurence Crane has a wonderfully bizarre text set as a poignant lullaby.
The collection offered by the Holywell Ensemble is a well-chosen set of six works, each using a different combination of the five players. Three works by Ireland are juxtaposed with pieces by Alwyn, Howells and one living composer, Jeffery Wilson. The group has an affinity with this repertoire and both the Alwyn Rhapsody and Ireland Phantasie are played with great warmth. The centrepiece is the beautiful Howells Violin Sonata No. 1, a piece well worth discovering, as is Wilson’s evocative Elegy.
The ‘Splendid British Clarinet Works’ played by John Denman and Paula Fan comprise both familiar and obscure pieces; the rarely heard Sonata capriccioso by Eric Hughes is spirited and stylish, and the sonatas by Bax and Stanford are most effective. However, the Five Bagatelles by Gerald Finzi, well known to clarinet enthusiasts, are given a wayward rendition with exaggerated rubato spoiling the simplicity of the more lyrical sections. Throughout the disc there are moments of unacceptable intonation (sharpness in the high register) coupled with a very pronounced vibrato which will not suit all tastes. Tim Payne