Collection: The NMC Songbook

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COMPOSERS: Collection: The NMC Songbook
LABELS: NMC
WORKS: Songs by J Anderson, Bainbridge, D & L Bedford, M Berkeley, Bingham, Birtwistle, Bryers, Burrell, Butler, Casken, Crosse, Dillon, Finnissy, Goehr, S Harrison, J Harvey, Holloway, Holt, N Lefanu, MacMillan, MacRae, McCabe, C & D Matthews, Maxwell Davies, Molitor, Montague, Musgrave, Northcott, O’Regan, R Panufnik, A Payne, Skempton, Turnage, Weir, Woolrich etc
PERFORMER: Elizabeth Atherton, Claire Booth, Ailish Tynan (soprano), Susan Bickley, Jean Rigby (mezzo-soprano), James Bowman, Michael Chance (countertenor), Andrew Kennedy (tenor), David Stout, Roderick Williams (baritone), Andrew Ball, Iain Burnside, Michael Finnissy, Jonathan Powell, Huw Watkins, Andrew West (piano), Lucy Wakeford (harp) etc
CATALOGUE NO: D 150

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New Music Cassettes – the name itself virtually carbon dates the NMC label and now, magnificently celebrating 20 years of recording contemporary British music, comes The NMC Songbook.

This treasure trove of delights spanning four tightly-packed discs features specially commissioned songs to English texts from nearly 100 composers. There are works for all sorts of voice types, including treble and countertenor (though, curiously, not bass), some unaccompanied, others partnered by harp, guitar, harpsichord, percussion, electronics or piano, showcasing more than 30 performers.

It would be wrong to say that The NMC Songbook contains something for everyone, for anyone listening to these discs will find many things to savour, and all without pandering or short-changing.

The plethora of styles and approaches is bewildering, yet patterns do emerge, such as an awareness of the firm foundations provided by earlier generations of British composers, a love of the language’s possibilities and regional inflections. ‘A Galliard’ by Thomas Morley, in various instrumental guises by Colin Matthews, here provides periodic staging posts.

There is incisive wit, notably Geoffrey Poole’s modern-day folk tale ‘Heynonnynonny Smallprint’ and there are songs of spiritual beauty, such as Julian Anderson’s ‘Lucretius’ or Jonathan Harvey’s ‘Ah! Sun-flower’. It is, inevitably an eclectic mix, but, as in any well-planned song recital, the progressions and juxtapositions are continually stimulating.

To take one example amid so many, Finnissy’s ‘Outside Fort Tregantle’ and Joe Cutler’s touching ‘Bands’ present differing aspects of nostalgia and memory either side of Phillip Neil Martin’s desolate ‘Blaze of Noon’. Coming after this melancholic trio, James MacMillan’s ‘Mouth of the Dumb’ looks luminously to the future.

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This snapshot of British musical life suggests we should really do the same, for, while financial headlines may be unremittingly gloomy, the artistic outlook is clearly far more cheerful. Christopher Dingle