Insomnia – Songs for the Night Performed by Allan Clayton

With works by Britten, Dean, Gurney, Couperin, McCartney, Ligeti, Buck, Mills & Stripe

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Britten,Buck,Couperin,Dean,Gurney,Ligeti,Mccartney,Mills & Stripe
LABELS: Warner
ALBUM TITLE: Insomnia
WORKS: Britten: Nocturne; Dean: Pastoral Symphony; plus works by Gurney, Couperin, McCartney, Ligeti, Buck, Mills & Stripe
PERFORMER: Allan Clayton (tenor); Aurora Orchestra/Nicholas Collon
CATALOGUE NO: 2564608223

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Following its critically acclaimed album Roadtrip (reviewed in February), the Aurora Orchestra repeats the formula with rather more vocal material, courtesy of tenor Allan Clayton. Again, the programming follows the freewheeling stream-of-association style perfected in the 1970s by the Kronos Quartet, and like the previous album features an established mid-20th century classic (here Britten’s Nocturne) with a more recent and strongly contrasting work by a contemporary composer (Brett Dean’s Pastoral Symphony), woven together in a dream-like tapestry of songs. Ivor Gurney’s poignant hymn to sleep, followed by Thomas Adès’s quirky instrumental arrangement of François Couperin’s ‘Les barricades mistérieuses’, provide an effective prelude to the soft breathing rhythms of Britten’s Nocturne. This phantasmagorical and often lyrically haunting sequence provides an excellent showcase for several soloists in the orchestra. Clayton is most successful in Middleton’s ‘Midnight’s bell’, his imitation of various night creatures sounding sinister rather than queasily fey; and the natural humanity of his singing makes the concluding Shakespeare Sonnet the appropriate culmination.

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Dean’s angry sonic attack on the idyllic clichés of ‘Pastoral’ may be a disturbing political statement, but I’m not sure its simplistic morphing of birdsong into mechanised noise, ending with a quiet, soulless chord terminated by a percussive crash, presents a compelling aesthetic experience. And Ligeti’s Poème Symphonique for 100 metronomes, surely to be seen as much as heard, sounds no more interesting than popping corn on the hob. A pity, because the entire first half of this programme is enchanting, as is Iain Farrington’s arrangement of Paul McCartney’s ‘Blackbird’. Daniel Jaffé