WORKS: Amarantha; Stop all the Clocks; Four Early Songs; Three Hebrew Choruses
PERFORMER: Thomas Rajna (piano), Soloists of Cape Town Opera & UCT Opera School; St George’s Singers/Barry Smith, Cape Town PO/Christopher Dowdeswell
CATALOGUE NO: AR 011-2 (distr. +27 21 671 3937; firstname.lastname@example.org)
Those with long memories or good record collections will recall the Hungarian-born Thomas Rajna’s career in London during the Fifties and Sixties, during which time he made important recordings of piano music by Stravinsky and Granados, among others. Since 1970 he has been one of South Africa’s leading pianists and composers, though it was not until two years ago that his first opera, Amarantha, reached the stage. Based on a short story by the American author Wilbur Daniel Steele, it is set in Thirties Carolina, where Humble Jewett, a Peter Grimes-like figure, abducts the simple country girl Amarantha. The live recording is less than ideal, but it captures the moody claustrophobia of the piece and shows how Rajna’s sinewy music drives the action along – a virtue many new operas lack. The mezzo Veramarie Meyer and baritone Brad Liebl in the two central roles are both strong.
Liebl is accompanied by the composer himself in an Auden cycle, Stop all the Clocks, the soprano Andrea Catzel joins Rajna for his Four Early Songs and Barry Smith conducts the St George’s Singers in Three Hebrew Choruses, all music that deserves wider currency. John Allison