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Violin Muse: Mitchell performs new commissions

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Violin Muse
Puw: Violin Concerto (Soft Stillness); plus works by M Berkeley, S Harrison, D Matthews, Nyman, Poole and Weir
Madeleine Mitchell, Cerys Jones (violin), Nigel Clayton (piano); BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Edwin Outwater
Divine Art DDA 25160


Here’s a fresh collection of commissions from the ever- enterprising Madeleine Mitchell. Each one has sprung from a personal connection and shared interest: from Geoffrey Poole’s kaleidoscopic Rhapsody, inspired by Beethoven’s Op. 96, to Guto Puw’s Violin Concerto on nocturnal verses from The Merchant of Venice.

For all its textural and structural sophistication, Puw’s work bears a strong resemblance to several recent violin concertos, by Ryan Wigglesworth and Pascal Dusapin to name but two. There seems to be an early 21st-century ‘mode’ in which the violinist soars or arpeggiates lyrically over a no-expense-spared orchestration jangling with percussion. There are some original mass pizzicatos effects in the orchestra and inspired touches of scoring when the texture thins out, finely rendered by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. Mitchell, occasionally sluggish in the first part, is at her best in the mysterious meditative pool of the second movement, ‘Soft, stillness, sweet harmony’.

In Sadie Harrison’s Aurea Luce, based on a plainsong melody, the violin hangs glinting in the air, like some angelic visitation, ambivalent bell-like harmonies crowding beneath. Michael Berkeley’s Veilleuse, sidling in like a sinister cradle song, develops into a grandly sensuous statement. Judith Weir’s Atlantic Drift duos call to mind shifting shades of salty grey. Romanze is David Matthews’s playful response to Bayan Northcott’s assertion that contemporary composers have abandoned 3/4, and weaves a mischievous waltz into an exploratory rhapsody. There’s something brave and touching about Michael Nyman’s Take it as Read – two bold, folk-like melodies, simply sung.

Read more reviews of the latest Judith Weir recordings


Helen Wallace