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Eleanor Alberga: Violin Concertos Nos 1 & 2 etc

Thomas Bowes (violin), Morgan Pearse (baritone); BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Joseph Swensen (Lyrita)

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0
SRCD405_Alberga

Eleanor Alberga
Violin Concerto No. 1; Violin Concerto No. 2, Narcissus; The Soul’s Expression*
Thomas Bowes (violin), *Morgan Pearse (baritone); BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Joseph Swensen
Lyrita SRCD405   74:38 mins

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Eleanor Alberga’s first notated composition was a portrait of her pet dog, a golden retriever. She was ten years old, and the Jamaican-born composer’s urge towards music that paints pictures and tells stories still persists now that she’s in her early seventies.

The latest and most beguiling work, from 2020, is the violin concerto (No. 2) inspired by the Greek myth of Narcissus, featuring a self-regarding soloist who may begin soaring prettily but reaches a bad end plummeting toward silence in disordered, ‘scordatura’ tuning. It’s the album’s most striking example of Alberga’s delight in dramatic effects. Along the way, the concerto’s orchestral textures, aerated with prominent spots for piano, harp and vibraphone, compellingly demonstrate her ear for instrumental colour.

The gifted violinist, Thomas Bowes (also Alberga’s husband), weaves his way through its moods with tenacity and aplomb. He works equally hard in the awkwardly ambitious First Concerto (2001), though it’s hard for any soloist to shine very bright when the musical language is largely unfriendly, and the orchestra’s principal moods are noisy rumpus and aggressive attack. The central slow movement, a possible homage to the spectral night moods of Bartók, one of Alberga’s continuing influences, offers some relief, as does the performers’ commitment.

The later song cycle The Soul’s Expression, heard in its version for baritone and strings, proves another mixed bag: gripping in the abstract orchestral interludes; tortuous and barren in the songs themselves, all settings of 19th-century women writers. Maybe Alberga needs to reconnect with simpler things, like another golden retriever.

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Geoff Brown