Heartfelt; Private Joe; Letters from Burma; Cantator and Amanda; Second Home; Hora Bessarabia; Canto
Mary Bevan (soprano), Roderick Williams (baritone), Nicholas Daniel (oboe), Amy Harman (bassoon), Andy Marshall (double bass), Charles Owen (piano); Sacconi Quartet
Signum Classics SIGCD673 81:23 mins
‘Did you know that the heart of a mouse beats at the rate of six hundred and fifty times a second?’ asks Matilda in the eponymous Roald Dahl story, adding ‘it goes so fast that you can’t even hear the separate beats.’ A hibernating bear, on the other hand, has a reduced heart rate that can be as slow as ten beats per minute – a pulse that is evoked in Heartfelt, the title track from Roxanna Panufnik’s new compilation album. The second movement, ‘Lament for a Bulgarian Dancing Bear’, was inspired by both Witold Szabłowski’s harrowing account of mistreated animals and Albie, a European Brown Bear based at Bristol Zoo’s Wild Place Project – his image features on the album cover. Panufnik collaborated with the veterinary team to record Albie’s heartbeat while the bear was under anaesthetic for a planned procedure. The gentle flicker is a constant presence in the music; a traditional Bulgarian folk melody sings out over the top. The timbral style of the gadulka (bowed string instrument) is imitated via a leather mute. The Sacconi Quartet recently visited Wild Place to perform some of the music to Albie, who sat contentedly on a wooden platform for the duration of the piece.
The rest of the programme is loosely themed around matters of the heart; each work a demonstration of Panufnik’s ability to deeply integrate multiple sources. Song cycle Private Joe features a soldier’s real and imagined ponderings shortly before he was killed in action in 1917. Soloist Roderick Williams is reliably superb, revealing a hitherto unknown talent for a cockney accent in the faux-jolly ‘And when I die’ (‘just pickle my toes in alcohol’).