Songs of the sky

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COMPOSERS: Martland,O’Regan,Watkins,Yarde & Tavener
LABELS: Signum
WORKS: Works by Martland, Watkins, O’Regan, Yarde & Tavener
PERFORMER: Charles Daniels (tenor), Nicholas Daniel (oboe), Joy Farrall (clarinet), Alina Ibragimova (violin), Joanna MacGregor, Huw Watkins (piano); Britten Sinfonia/ Jacqueline Shave (violin)
CATALOGUE NO: SIGCD 149

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Jo Buckley’s booklet-notes question the views of ‘critics [who] speak of a loss of definition or even a sense of disillusionment’ in contemporary music. As this disc demonstrates, while ‘serious’ music may be less pure than 50 years ago and there may no longer be a Great Tradition, there is ample evidence of its vitality and the commitment of its exponents.

Martland’s Tiger Dancing, variations on a setting of Blake’s The Tyger, relies on supple, athletic grace rather than the usual brawn of his Industrial-Minimalist works. Agile phrasing and bright textures make for an inviting opening track. Watkins’s thoughtful Dream begins with a gentle melody for piano cushioned by quiet tones on violin and clarinet, but unexpected and unsettling images soon break in.

Raï, an intriguing contrast to the choral music mostly associated with O’Regan, refers to Algerian dance music, but the impact of O’Regan’s time in New York is also strongly evident. Yarde is a jazz saxophonist, but jazz is only one of the genres he calls in during his kaleidoscopic consideration of Who Knows the Beauty.

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The album’s title-piece, Tavener’s emotional, affecting, almost confrontational response to the 2004 tsunami, displays the spikier turn his music has taken in recent years and is full of remarkably direct evocations of Britten. Barry Witherden