The King’s Alchemist – British String Trios
Sally Beamish: The King’s Alchemist; Finzi: Prelude and Fugue, Op. 24; Moeren: String Trio in G; Hugh Wood: Ithaka
Eblana String Trio
Willowhayne WHR 067 50:17 mins
In what appears to be their recording debut, the Eblana String Trio offer works by four well-established British composers. Yet we are mostly far from homely pastoral, even with the opening Finzi Prelude and Fugue (1938), which starts sounding like serial Stravinsky, with muted strings piling up dissonance upon dissonance; this then unexpectedly resolves in conscious tribute to the counterpoint lessons Finzi received in the 1920s from RO Morris. It is a striking start to a piece which eventually takes up Finzi’s usual pastoral style, yet never quite shakes off the sense of threatening clouds.
Hugh Wood’s Ithaka, inspired by the Greek poet Cavafy’s meditation on Ulysses’s homeward voyage, takes a remarkably similar trajectory. Sounding even more forbidding than the Finzi at first, it becomes more openly expressive in a manner akin to both Berg and Janáček. Sally Beamish’s The King’s Alchemist inhabits a similar harmonic world, though its four quite short and well-contrasted movements and her use of unusual string colours help to make her music easier to grasp at first hearing.
After so much harmonic tension, Moeran’s String Trio sounds positively cosy in its straight-forward tonality, though it soon enters emotionally more troubled waters. Throughout the programme, the Eblana play with incisiveness combined with a patient concentration which allows each work to unfold its narrative naturally and engagingly.