Tennyson Fantasy, Op. 36; Expressions, Op. 9; Paradise Poems, Op. 22
Mark van de Wiel (clarinet), Tim Hugh (cello), Simon Mulligan, Alissa Firsova (piano); Tippett Quartet
Vivat VIVAT 115 69:16 mins
Art and poetry infuse this intricate, powerful and beautifully-performed disc from Russian-born composer Alissa Firsova. Having emigrated to Britain in 1991, Firsova describes her childhood in England as a ‘fantasy adventure’, animated by discoveries of painting and literature. Her richly-textured compositions take flight from a kaleidoscopic range of extra-musical sources, from Tennyson’s majestic poetry to the vivid expressionist paintings of Oskar Kokoschka.
In Tennyson Fantasy (2016), the movement ‘Come Down, O Maid’ evokes the poet’s pastoral romance The Princess through warm, rippling sonorities, while ‘Ring Out, Wild Bells’ explores his poem The Lotos-Eaters, darting between strident menace and a woozy pizzicato waltz. ‘If Sleep and Death be Truly One’ is an exquisite finale, opening with a hushed, fractured chorale that builds then fades to end in utmost sweetness, performed here with stunning control. Firsova’s scores often seek to capture a single, ineffable moment in time. Bride of the Wind (2016) for piano duet responds to Kokoschka’s extraordinary painting of the artist and Alma Mahler asleep in the eye of a storm. Firsova conveys the image’s ferocity and mystery in crashing dissonance and impressionistic whole-tone harmonies, played magnificently by Firsova and Simon Mulligan. Here in Canisy (2010) for soprano and piano (radiantly sung by Ellie Laugharne) explores the ‘timeless paradise’ of Château de Canisy in a bloom of neo-Romantic melody. Meanwhile, three agile movements from Expressions for clarinet and piano/clarinet quintet ‘speak’ the indescribable from ‘Eternity’ to ‘Loss’, here played with remarkable eloquence by clarinettist Mark van de Wiel. Featuring fine performances, Fantasy offers a welcome profile of Firsova’s vivid and arresting musical imagination.