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COMPOSERS: Birtwistle/Maxwell/Holt
WORKS: Pulse Sampler; Elegy; Banshee
PERFORMER: Melinda Maxwell (oboe), Richard Benjafield (percussion), Jan Gruithuyzen (piano)
The English oboist Melinda Maxwell, long a champion of new music, developed particular links while still a student and young professional with Harrison Birtwistle and other composers closely associated with him. She remains a first-rate player, in this and other repertoires, coupling beauty and variety of tone to an intelligence as well as sheer agility in conveying often complex, demanding scores. This 33-minute disc is an apt, though too brief, celebration of her talents; she’s not heard as much these days as she should be.


Birtwistle’s Pulse Sampler (1981) for oboe and claves was written for her; its reductive, elemental focus on pulse and melody in ever-shifting, typically cunning juxtapositions has made it a minor contemporary classic.


Maxwell’s own Elegy (1994) for oboe and piano is stronger on atmosphere and exploitation of her instrumental skills than on memorability of material or on continuity, but its inclusion is appropriate. Simon Holt’s Banshee (1994-6) for oboe and percussion demonstrates this experienced composer’s gift by taking a familiar inspiration – the wail of the ghostly prophet of death – and conjuring from it some highly volatile melodic inspirations set against a mysterious accompaniment of percussive timbres. Maxwell’s accompanying players provide sensitive, musicianly support. Keith Potter