Simon Callow narrates Butler’s Dirty Beasts, with performances by the New London Chamber Ensemble, Martin Butler, Leom Bosch and members of the Navarra String Quartet

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COMPOSERS: Butler
LABELS: NMC
ALBUM TITLE: Butler
WORKS: Dirty Beasts; Down-Hollow Winds; Lovesongs Waltzes; Rumba Machine; Fall; Preludes Inègales; Rondes d’Automne
PERFORMER: Simon Callow (narrator); New London Chamber Ensemble; Martin Butler (piano); members of the Navarra String Quartet; Leon Bosch (double bass)
CATALOGUE NO: NMC D212

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‘No animal is half as vile, as Crocky-Wock, the crocodile. On Saturdays he likes to crunch six juicy children for his lunch.’ If anyone knew how to write words and tales that children (and adults) would find funny, gleefully revolting and deliciously menacing, it was Roald Dahl. And in his 1988 settings of three of Dahl’s Dirty Beasts poems, Martin Butler finds just the right sparky musical style for his material. ‘The Pig’ opens with humorous snuffling sounds, while the battle between child and mother is amusingly portrayed in ‘The Tummy Beast’. ‘The Crocodile’ has plenty of bite and snap, bringing the triptych to a fast-paced close. At the piano, the composer himself joins the wind players of the New London Chamber Ensemble for this premiere recording; they all play with gusto and polish. Simon Callow relishes his role as narrator, a spoken rather than sung part. This is a piece to savour in all its witty glory; I wish Butler had set even more of Dahl’s collection.

The rest – in fact the majority – of the disc offers a hearty serving of chamber and solo music by Butler, from 1991-2013. His wind quintet Down Hollow Winds opens with rustic vigour and ends contentedly, its five movements abstractly engaging. We get a jazzy solo piano toccata, Rumba Machine, energetically dispatched by Butler, and more reflective sounds in the quasi-improvisatory Preludes inégales.

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In his Lovesongs waltzes – which Butler describes in the booklet notes as a ‘clumsily literal translation’ of Brahms’s Liebeslieder-Walzer – clarinet and piano jostle, sing and dance with each other, far more gracefully than we’re led to expect. And we get two looks at the same material in Fall, for flute and piano, and Rondes d’Automne for nonet, the latter a wonderfully hypnotic continuous movement whose music shifts and rustles like leaves.