Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

WORKS: String Symphony (Symphony No. 4); Songs of Light and Love; Songs from Letters
PERFORMER: Benita Valente (soprano); Scottish CO/Joel Revzen
CATALOGUE NO: 3-7481-2
‘Strings,’ says the American composer Libby Larsen, are ‘supremely lyrical and supremely emotional.’ After a century in which many composers seemed to want to de-humanise them (especially in the years after the Second World War), this reaffirmation of belief in the strings as singing instruments is striking – and rather encouraging. Larsen is emphatically not a modernist. Her harmonies are often recognisably tonal, even if they don’t behave quite as you’d expect; her melodic style is closer to Copland and Bernstein than to any of the postwar radicals. But it doesn’t sound derivative. There’s an authentic, sometimes surprisingly moving voice here, with a flair for lush harmony and tender melody. On first impression, Larsen’s lyricism was more convincing in the purely instrumental String Symphony than in either of the song cycles; but that may be because I found soprano Benita Valente’s heavy vibrato a big turn-off. A line like ‘I’ll be leaving to join Bill Cody’s Wild West Show’ needs a hard sell in a serious song cycle, and the classical operatic grand manner isn’t the way to do it. But the Scottish Chamber Orchestra plays the String Symphony with refinement and feeling. For that at least, I’d recommend this disc. Stephen Johnson