Emily Howard’s Magnetite, Thrones, Mesmerism, Leviathan, Solar and Afferent conducted by Andrew Gourlay

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Emily Howard
WORKS: Magnetite; Threnos; Mesmerism; Leviathan; Solar; Afference
PERFORMER: Lucy Goddard (mezzo), Simon Whiteley (bass), Alexandra Dariescu (piano);  Elias Quartet; RLPO/Andrew Gourlay


Aptly described by poet Geoffrey Hill as ‘austerely sensuous and sensuously austere’, Emily Howard’s music teams meticulous formal rigour with vivid imagination. While Howard justly asserts ‘I’m a composer, not a mathematician’ (she holds a degree in maths and computer science), almost all the works here are rooted in scientific concepts: Afference (2014) for string quartet derives from the physiological term for how the brain receives signals through the body, while the sweeping orchestral work Magnetite (2007) explores the properties of this ancient magnetic substance through a shimmering soundscape. Howard excels in creating vast orchestral textures to conjure the breadth and mystery of the universe. In Solar (2010), the glistering force of the sun is captured through the slow rotation of sumptuously orchestrated tones, which gradually collide and coalesce. 

Yet alongside the fierce intellect running through these works is a deep concern for the human and the raw power of sound, perhaps best exemplified by Threnos (2015). This wordless ‘three-part song’ exploits extreme register differences between male and female voices to sting with emotion, performed with fire and precision by Lucy Goddard and Simon Whiteley.

Released by the excellent NMC and featuring consistently high-quality performances, this fine disc offers a welcome introduction to a striking musical voice.


Kate Wakeling