WORKS: Darting the Skiff; Maharal Dreaming; Cello Concerto; Vaganza
PERFORMER: Heinrich Schiff (cello); Northern Sinfonia/John Casken
CATALOGUE NO: D 086 Reissue (1995)
Even the Taveners, Góreckis and Nymans of the musical world aren’t instant success stories. Recordings of new works may sit for ages on warehouse shelves, sales barely more than a trickle, before buyers begin to take notice. But by then, if the accountants have had their way, the discs have probably been deleted anyway. So three cheers and a generous rosette to NMC for rescuing so many recordings of new British music and giving them a second chance. This batch of three CDs is fairly typical of the results – not, perhaps, an unbroken sequence of masterpieces, but some interesting and, yes, enjoyable music, and at least one really outstanding achievement.
The best first. John Buller’s Proença isn’t quite like anything else I know: an orchestral song cycle on medieval Provençal poems, in a relatively thorny modern idiom, but with strong, highly expressive folk-based vocal lines, sung with passion and superb style here by Sarah Walker. This celebration of song and love in the face of violent oppression both stirs and challenges.
The only work on the David Matthews disc that I find generally convincing is the short, relatively modest Introit, but there are beautiful, individual things in all four pieces, especially in the three central movements of the Fourth Symphony. For all his intellectual strength, Matthews, it seems to me, is at his best when he’s most unashamedly Romantic. There’s subtlety that prevents it from cloying, and the poetry is brought out sympathetically enough by the performers.
As for the Casken, I have a problem. The music is finely and imaginatively crafted, with elegant melodic lines, lively rhythms and telling instrumental colours; it’s his harmonies I don’t get – on that level it all seems rather opaque, like a lot of early 12-note Schoenberg. But the performances are impressive, and this is the best recorded of the three discs. Well worth exploring. Stephen Johnson