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Martin Suckling: The Tuning

Marta Fontanals-Simmons (mezzo-soprano), Christopher Glynn (piano) et al (Delphian)

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

Martin Suckling
The Tuning; Nocturne; Emily’s Electrical Absence String Quintet; Her Lullaby
Frances Leviston (reader); Marta Fontanals-Simmons (mezzo-soprano), Christopher Glynn (piano); principal players of Aurora Orchestra
Delphian DCD 34235   75:39 mins

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Following the NMC release of Suckling’s orchestral music last year, this beautifully played and recorded disc shows his more intimate side. The Tuning sets five poems by Michael Donaghy, which share a vision of nature that is sometimes dark and unsettling. Marta Fontanals-Simmons reinforces the emotion in the words with her rich tone, eloquent legato, and impeccable intonation and diction. The piano, where Glynn is an equally impassioned advocate, is more turbulent, often using the extremes of the keyboard, obsessively turning round small melodic fragments.

For much of Nocturne, the two players – violin and cello – spin long lines inflected with microtones. This isn’t as scary as it sounds, as there’s a strong lyrical backbone and a basic sense of tonality. Things that go bump in the night come in alternating sections, where aggressive attacks and skittering harmonics gradually subside to the quieter conclusion. In Her Lullaby, the solo cello grips the attention
for a full 16 minutes with the hypnotic melodic and rhythmic hook of its recurring, slightly unworldly theme.

The four movements of Emily’s Electrical Absence, for the same line-up as Schubert’s String Quintet, are bookended and interspersed by Frances Leviston reading her related poems. For me this breaks things up too much, but Suckling’s music is again varied and impressive, with the opening movement setting off like a rocket, the upper strings chasing each other over more sustained cellos; then chords in harmonics alternating with silences in the second; greater lyricism in the third; and a slow dissolution in the long finale, with tenuous harmonics again much in evidence.

Martin Cotton

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