Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

WORKS: Five Songs to Poems by Irina Ratushinskaya; Laments
PERFORMER: Mary King, Catherine Wyn-Rogers (mezzo-soprano); BBC SO/Martyn Brabbins, Tadaaki Otaka
In a contemporary music world increasingly full of easygoing crossover and sly ironic games, Brian Elias cuts a figure of old-fashioned musical integrity. He deals with the weightiest topics in a musical language of unabashed expressive intensity, which certainly makes for strenuous listening – in the 54 minutes on this disc there isn’t a single second of light relief. Five Songs, premiered in 1989, is the piece that made Elias’s name. The poems are bleak outcries against the terror of arbitrary imprisonment and separation (Ratushinskaya was a target of the old Soviet system and has also been set by Sally Beamish – see Orchestral), mingled with bitter-sweet fantasies of escape. What’s impressive about the performance is the way it responds to the emotional palpitations of the music while keeping a kind of stoic dignity. In the Laments, a setting of folk laments in a strange mixture of Greek and Italian known as Grico, a semi-chorus adds a ritual element to the outpourings of the soloist. There’s a new, fierce, hard quality in the musical language, which might have been better captured by a soprano with harder edge than the velvet-toned Catherine Wyn-Rogers. But the BBC Symphony Orchestra is as superb as in the Five Songs, and the recording has an ideal blend of clarity and weight. Ivan Hewett