Sea Eagle

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: C Matthews,D Matthews,Davies,G Barry,Turnage,Watkins and Holloway
LABELS: NMC Recordings
WORKS: Works by Davies, G Barry, C Matthews, D Matthews, Turnage, Watkins and Holloway
PERFORMER: Richard Watkins (horn); Mark Padmore (tenor), Paul Watkins (cello), Huw Watkins (piano); Nash Ensemble
CATALOGUE NO: NMC D203

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The quality of the works on offer here should make this release appeal well beyond the ranks of new music aficionados; and the near-flawless performances provide their own recommendation. Linking each item in this varied selection is Richard Watkins’s state-of-the-art horn-playing. His sound is firm and sonorous, with no trace of that exasperating fizziness of tone you sometimes hear elsewhere. And Watkins conjures eyebrow-raising virtuosity wherever required – as in Peter Maxwell Davies’s Sea Eagle, whose unaccompanied three-movement sequence has in itself set a new technical standard for the instrument.

Wild contrast follows in Gerald Barry’s gorgeously over-the-top Jabberwocky, a setting of successive French and German translations of Lewis Carroll’s poem for tenor, horn and piano. (The style? Imagine Erik Satie on crack cocaine.) Colin Matthews’s Three of a Kind beautifully re-works his existing viola-and-piano Calmo for horn, cello and piano, with the addition of two short preceding movements: the title relates to the presence of the Watkins brothers, cellist Paul and pianist Huw (Richard is unrelated). The same expert threesome excels in the limpid post-Romanticism of Robin Holloway’s Trio. The other outstanding work is David Matthews’s Quintet for horn and string quartet, with its final high horn phrase suddenly left hanging in mid-air – just one of many moments brought off by Watkins with such skill that he has you taking his mastery almost for granted.

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Malcolm Hayes