Elena Langer’s Landscape With Three People

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COMPOSERS: Elena Langer
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: Elena Langer
WORKS: Landscape With Three People
PERFORMER: Anna Dennis (soprano), William Towers (countertenor), Nicholas Daniel (oboe), Roman Mints (violin), Meghan Cassidy (viola), Kristina Blaumane (cello), Robert Howarth (harpsichord), Katya Apekisheva (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: Harmonia Mundi HMU 907669

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This is the first disc solely dedicated to the music of Elena Langer and it offers an exquisitely performed showcase of her vocal-chamber works. The Moscow-born, London-based composer recently penned Figaro Gets a Divorce for Welsh National Opera, and here the human voice is also centre-stage in music of crystalline, bright purity.

In the 2013 song-cycle Landscape with Three People, she sets poet Lee Harwood’s eight intimate texts loosely tracing a story of loss and love. There’s (deliberately) more than a hint of Britten; the music unfolds with crisp ideas and clean lines. In ‘First Love Scene’ the refined voices of Anna Dennis and William Towers intertwine with moving lyricism, while the ‘Train Love Poem’ is neatly onomatopoeic. In two songs entitled ‘Distance’, the un-named narrator’s cry of ‘I am miserable and lost without you’ comes across to haunting effect, while the final song ‘I hear you’ reaches a point of otherworldly stasis.

Ariadne, for soprano, oboe and string trio, is the other substantial work here. Dennis inhabits every corner of the lamenting, lovesick Ariadne in her thorny, freewheeling monologue, which after plumbing the depths fades into nothingness.

Elsewhere, pattering piano and spindly, ethereal violin conjure the radiant white of Snow, while ominous feeling hangs heavy in the Debussy-esque piano part of The Storm Cloud. In the Two Cat Songs, Langer turns to her Russian roots and sets the absurdist writer Daniil Kharms, with Pärt-like simplicity.

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Rebecca Franks