Milstein: Fire dressed in Black

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

LABELS: Lorelt
WORKS: Fire dressed in Black; Of Lavender Light…; The Unending Rose I & II; Tigres Azules; Cristales y susurros
PERFORMER: Alison Wells (mezzo-soprano), Caroline Balding (violin); Lontano/Ondaline de la Martinez


Argentinian composer Silvina Milstein is known in academic circles as an expert on Schoenberg, which has given her a reputation of being an ‘intellectual’ – not a good selling point in a country which doesn’t like intellectuals. This CD proves just how wide of the mark that judgement is.

It’s true that if you listen intently you can discern the same little motifs coming back again and again, turned this way and that. But this isn’t parsimony, it’s the sign of an emotional heat which keeps returning to the same thoughts, like a regretful lover. Milstein loves fantastical poetic imagery, and the music is saturated with them: blue tigers, Hindu temples, the ‘lavender light’ in Van Gogh’s paintings.


Odaline de la Martinez and her group Lontano have clearly lavished care and love on these turbulent, hesitantly ecstatic pieces.  All their burgeoning detail registers with maximum clarity, but it’s an expressive clarity, not a forensic one. Caroline Balding is the fine soloist in the two solo violin pieces, and mezzo Alison Wells captures the fluttering intensity of Fire Dressed in Black, a setting of St John of the Cross’s mystical poetry. If the pieces sometimes seem over-extended, that’s no fault of the performers. Ivan Hewett