The Whole Earth Dances*; Cloud Movements; Songs and Dances; The Prophecy; Game On; Play Close Attention; Mazurka; Media; My Day in Hell**
Various Artists; *The Schubert Ensemble; **Gildas Quartet
Champs Hill CHRCD152 79:39 mins
This is a lavish disc of chamber works by Cheryl Frances-Hoad, whose music becomes more intriguing each time one encounters it. The earliest piece is from 1998, when she was all of 18 (The Prophecy); the title work, The Whole Earth Dances, was composed in 2016. You could see her concepts as post-apocalyptic, or just very current (it’s close to the same thing), with inspirations from nature bright or dark, threatened or indomitable, the dangers of the digital shift, and much more. Either way, what impresses is the unfailing imagination, clarity and precision at every step.
Different pieces feature different ensembles or soloists; all offer dedicated and detailed renderings, ranging from an elegant navigation of the flute solo Medea from Sara Minelli to the startling Game On, essentially a three-movement sonata for piano and computer: here the mix of traditional expressiveness on the former and automated beeping from the latter produces a striking and slightly queasiness-inducing impression of what the future might hold. The second movement threatens ‘Robots Will Rule the World’, the last entitled simply ‘Lament’. Plaudits to Yshani Perinpanayagam who performs both parts.
On more conventional territory there’s brilliance, colour and fieriness from cellist David Cohen and pianist Daniel Grimwood in the irresistible Songs and Dances; and the shifting skyscapes of the Tuscany-inspired Cloud Movements are finely conjured by Rozenn Le Trionnaire, Francesca Barritt and Sholto Kynoch. But perhaps the outstanding item is The Whole Earth Dances: the Schubert Ensemble’s last recording before disbanding. Its Messiaen-like giant chords and plunging, soaring melodic lines are magnificently played; impassioned and irrepressible, it will live on.