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Love at Last (Lara Downes)

Lara Downes (piano) (Pentatone)

Our rating 
2.0 out of 5 star rating 2.0

Love at Last
Works by Clarice Assad, JS Bach, M Bonds, Schubert et al
Lara Downes (piano)
Pentatone PTC 5187 018   78:32 mins


Lara Downes, a committed activist who habitually champions works by women, composers of diverse ethnicity and more, presents a playlist of musical responses to times of trouble and tragedy, chiefly contemporary. The idea, unfortunately, is more compelling than the result.

Certain pieces were written especially for Downes, such as those by Timo Andres and Sean Hickey; outstanding figures pepper the rest, notably the exiled Ukrainian octogenarian Valentin Silvestrov. All reflect elements of longing, hope, nature etc, the idea being to transcend these troubles through love. The first piece, Svítá (Dawn), was played every morning on Prague’s radio station during the Nazi occupation; Bach’s Wachet Auf is arranged by Ignaz Friedman, the Polish-Jewish pianist forced into exile by the Nazis. Highlights include Calliope Tsoupaki’s poignant Meeting Point and Dobrinka Tabakova’s Simple Prayer for Complex Times, while Vijay Iyer’s Crown Thy Good is a welcome moment of anger in the face of injustice. There are responses to the Covid pandemic, the dilemmas of gender identity, being a DREAMer immigrant, Afghanistan, violence against women in Iran, the Californian landscape and so on.

Downes does not always offer the range of characterisation, contrast, atmosphere and sensitivity that such a plethora of styles and origins could attract. More seriously, though, some of these situations are so apocalyptic that gathering them all together perhaps paradoxically flattens the impact, even perhaps risks being inappropriately trivial, however fervent the written explanations. Lockdown isolation was painful, but in no way comparable to the horrors of the war in Ukraine.


Jessica Duchen