Woolrich: Lending Wings; Dartington Doubles; Berceuse; Black Riddle; The Death of King Renaud; Spalanzani’s Daughter; A Farewell

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Woolrich
LABELS: NMC
WORKS: Lending Wings; Dartington Doubles; Berceuse; Black Riddle; The Death of King Renaud; Spalanzani’s Daughter; A Farewell
PERFORMER: Mary Wiegold (soprano), Jane Atkins (viola); Brodsky Quartet, Composers Ensemble/Diego Masson
CATALOGUE NO: NMCD 029
John Woolrich makes a little go a long way. Perpetual recycling, refashioning and allusion, even deft ransacking: all these descriptions are used by Robin Holloway in his booklet note tribute from one English kleptomaniac to another.

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But the overriding impression is of a composer obsessed by a single colleague: Harrison Birtwistle. Each of the three ‘machines’ included on this disc assembles a cranky automaton out of what sounds like the bits and pieces left behind after one of Birtwistle’s grinding mechanisms has trundled by. Yet, though each is only ten minutes long, neither Lending Wings nor the raucous Spalanzani’s Daughter sustained my interest. The most successful is the opening Dartington Doubles: slow to get going, but a cunningly contrived five minutes.

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Woolrich seems essentially a miniaturist. None of these seven compositions – all written between 1984 and 1992 – lasts much more than ten minutes, and one is a set of five songs. The songs – Berceuse and the Black Riddle mini-cycle – are oddly disappointing, given their composer’s track record. This is partly due to Mary Wiegold’s voice, which here lacks its usual brightness and purity. But I rather liked the inventive reworking of a Norman folksong and imaginative string textures of The Death of King Renaud, and the nervous echoes and hesitations of the concluding Farewell. Keith Potter