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COMPOSERS: SaxtonLutyensMcCabeWilliamson
LABELS: Signum
WORKS: Birthday Piece; Seventh Symphony for Strings
PERFORMER: Teresa CahillBrunel EnsembleChristopher Austin
On paper this looks a random


assembly of disparate pieces, but

proves instead to be an absorbing,

even fascinating, collection of

some splendid contemporary, and

causelessly neglected no-longerquite-

contemporary works by British

composers (plus one Australian).

From the dramatic unisons of Robert

Saxton’s unexpectedly weighty

Birthday Piece for Richard Rodney

Bennett to the marvellously varied

writing of Malcolm Williamson’s late

Seventh Symphony for strings, with

its Macedonian dances and warmly

elegiac Andante, there are continual

surprises and satisfactions.

The continuing strength of the

lyric, broodingly pastoral post-Maw,

post-Tippett tradition with its lush

post-tonal harmony, hinted at in

these works, seems to be affirmed by

John McCabe’s title piece, inspired

by the forests of New England in

the Fall, and by the four movements

of Saxton’s quasi-symphonic cycle

Elijah’s Violin, a work puzzlingly left

unmentioned in Nicholas Williams’s

booklet notes. Counterpoised to

this is the fiercer, flintier modernist

aesthetic of Elisabeth Lutyens,

whose long-neglected Bagatelles

nevertheless disclose a marmoreal

grace within their expressionistic

stance, and whose brief, ecstatic

Rimbaud cantata, O saisons, ô châteux,

stunningly sung by Teresa Cahill, is

perhaps the highpoint of the entire

disc. Throughout, the playing of

the Brunel Ensemble is first-rate

and totally committed; the resonant

(perhaps too resonant) acoustic of All

Hallows Church, Gospel Oak, gives

this comparatively small ensemble

a vibrant orchestral weight and

presence. A valuable and distinctive


release. Calum MacDonald