THe Glory Tree

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Frances-Hoad
LABELS: Champs Hill
WORKS: The Glory Tree; Melancholia; The Ogre Lover; The Snow Woman; Memoria; My Fleeting Angel; Bouleumata; Invocation
PERFORMER: London Mozart Trio; Kreisler Ensemble; Lendvai String Trio; Ensemble na Mara plus soloists
CATALOGUE NO: CHRCD021

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This collection of pieces poses the question of whether music inspired by literary works can stand on its own, divorced from its notional programme. Certainly Cheryl Frances-Hoad’s can. Although she draws on a story by Sylvia Plath, poems by Ted Hughes and an unknown Anglo-Saxon poet, and even paintings by Edvard Munch, her compositions command attention through their well-constructed musical development and the emotional intensity of their sound-worlds rather than any extramusical narrative. I deliberately avoided reading about the backgrounds to the works in this recital until I had listened to the CD a couple of times, and it is testimony to the power of Frances-Hoad’s writing that, while my eventual swotting may have explained what the music was ‘about’, it added little to my enjoyment of it.

Refreshingly, on this evidence, Frances-Hoad’s allegiances are to mainstream modernism, rather than the various popular post-modernist ‘isms’. Her compositions may tend towards the sternly ascetic, but they are full of feeling and memorable gestures.

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All the performers play with an admirable combination of passion, precision and attention to tone production but, if it’s not too unfair to the others, I would particularly mention oboist Nicholas Daniel, violinists Nadia Wijzenbeek and Tom Hankey, and the cellists from the Menuhin school. Respect to Champs Hill and the various funders. Left to the majors, I’m sure this music would have gone unrecorded, and that would have been a great shame. Barry Witherden