Beamish: Viola Concerto; Cello Concerto (River); Tam Lin

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Beamish
LABELS: BIS
WORKS: Viola Concerto; Cello Concerto (River); Tam Lin
PERFORMER: Philip Dukes (viola), Robert Cohen (cello), Gordon Hunt (oboe); Swedish CO/Ola Rudner
CATALOGUE NO: CD-971
Since she gave up her day job as a viola player ten years ago, Sally Beamish has emerged as a distinctive composer of richly image-laden music, often tied to a narrative or landscape, but always rising above the merely pictorial. The Viola Concerto, Cello Concerto and Tam Lin all have her particular combination of astringently melancholy lyricism, clean open textures and nervous, energetic rhythm.

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The oboe concerto, Tam Lin, based on the Scottish story of an elfin knight who changes shape, seems too episodic to hang together as a whole, and the expressive leaps and twirls of the oboe line, though affecting at first, do start to pall. This is despite the best efforts of the oboist Gordon Hunt, who is first-rate (as are the other two soloists: Philip Dukes and Robert Cohen).

The newly formed Swedish Chamber Orchestra is also impressive, and one gets the feeling the players actually enjoy the music, which is not always the case with contemporary orchestral discs. They relish Beamish’s sharp ear for interesting and telling sonorities, and the springy rhythms.

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The Cello Concerto (River) is the most recently composed of the three pieces and also much the best. The dryness that appears elsewhere has disappeared, and there’s a new amplitude and richness in the harmony. The recording is well-balanced and clear, but could be a little warmer. Ivan Hewett