COMPOSERS: Britten,Casken,D Matthews
ALBUM TITLE: Deadly Pleasures
WORKS: Britten: Six Metamorphoses; Cabaret Suite (arr. Farrington); Casken: Deadly Pleasures; D Matthews: Actaeon
PERFORMER: Eleanor Bron, Donald Maxwell (narrator); Counterpoise
CATALOGUE NO: DXL 1151
The art of melodrama in its original sense, as a spoken text accompanied by music, is alive and well. Kudos to the quartet of Counterpoise for commissioning John Casken and David Matthews. Casken’s choice is an unfinished Pushkin poem about Cleopatra previously set – also as a melodrama, with precisely notated Russian declamation – by Prokofiev (perhaps the group’s ever enterprising pianist-arranger Iain Farrington could transcribe that too?). DM Thomas’s completion continues the saucy-sadistic streak, well delivered by Donald Maxwell, but the music misses a crucial sensuality, despite fine solos for the three lovers doomed to die for a night of pleasure with the Egyptian queen.
David Matthews’s racier narrative of Diana and Actaeon is a brilliant concert-hall entertainment with an ideal role for Eleanor Bron. The classical transformations continue in Britten’s Six Metamorphoses, so perfectly written for oboe that Kyle Horch’s exquisite soprano saxophone playing only succeeds in getting the original timbre out of my head once – in ‘Narcissus’. Farrington’s Britten cabaret arrangements, though, sound more like authentic dance-band music than the originals. It’s a pity song and melodrama texts are not included, nor player identities more clearly spelled out.