I Am I Say: Kate Whitley’s Viola Concerto and more

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COMPOSERS: Kate Whitley
LABELS: NMC
ALBUM TITLE: Whitley
WORKS: Viola Concerto; Three Pieces for Violin and Piano; Five Piano Pieces; Duo for Violin and Viola; I am I say
PERFORMER: Sarah-Jane Lewis (soprano), Ashley Riches (bass), Eloisa-Fleur Thom (violin), Shiry Rashkovsky, Asher Zaccardelli (viola), Kate Whitley, Rolf Hind (piano); Choirs from Kender, Lyndhurst & John Donne Primary Schools; The Multi-Story Orchestra/Christopher Stark
CATALOGUE NO: NMC D229

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In 2011 Kate Whitley and conductor Christopher Stark staged a concert in a Peckham car park. If naysayers might have thought it a gimmick, performance after performance proved otherwise and last year the Multi-Story Orchestra made its debut at the Proms – or, more accurately, the Proms came to its multi-storey home. Alongside, there’s been another success story: that of Whitley’s own music, which this year saw her commissioned by BBC Radio 3 to set Malala Yousafzai’s 2013 UN Speech to music. Here, NMC’s invaluable Debut Discs series provides a snapshot of a fresh and individual creative voice, sometimes still finding itself, often speaking clear and true.

Like Britten and Maxwell Davies, Whitley values writing for local communities and for children. She’s clearly got the knack: the title track is a stirring look at our place in the natural world, with words by her friend the poet Sabrina Mahfouz and the primary school children for whom it was written. ‘When we are singing it really makes me feel nice inside,’ said one, included in a page of enthusiastic responses in the booklet.

A stubborn, tempestuous Viola Concerto, written for Whitley’s university friend Shiry Rashkovsky opens the disc, played with passion and brio. It’s quite different in mood from the crystalline Three Pieces for Violin and Piano, which Whitley herself performs beautifully with Eloisa-Fleur Thomson. Rolf Hind is the excellent pianist in the Haiku-like Five Piano Pieces – each named after a mood: declamatory, spacious, aggressive, sad and triumphant. And with scudding string scales and keenly lyrical lines, Whitley takes us to the edge of silence in the Duo for Violin and Viola.

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Rebecca Franks