Harvey: Madonna of Winter and Spring; Percussion Concerto; Song Offerings

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LABELS: Nimbus
WORKS: Madonna of Winter and Spring; Percussion Concerto; Song Offerings
PERFORMER: Peter Prommel (percussion), Penelope Walmsley-Clark (soprano); Netherlands Radio PO/Peter Eötvös, London Sinfonietta/George Benjamin
This outstanding new release brings two major Jonathan Harvey works to disc for the first time, both of them Proms commissions. Madonna of Winter and Spring, his massive score for large orchestra and electronics from 1986, is a homage to the ‘soft, yielding influence’ of the Virgin Mary, expressed in music which ranges from the all-consuming violence of the opening ‘Conflict’ to the ethereal radiance of the lengthy final movement, ‘Mary’. While a CD recording could never capture the astonishing electronic spatial effects achieved in a live performance, Eötvös and his Dutch forces more than make up for this with a tightly focused reading which throws Harvey’s grand gestures into sharp relief. The Percussion Concerto of 1997 is an exquisite work which ought to be more widely performed. Its sparse, transparent textures and volatile solo part are a welcome change from the numerous more bombastic percussion concertos of recent years; particularly memorable are the slithering string chords and ‘out-of-tune’ gamelan keyboards which constitute the serene second movement. Prommel is a persuasive soloist, reacting lithely to Harvey’s ever-changing demands and enjoying the rich tapestry of sounds he creates. The 1988 recording of Harvey’s rapturous Tagore cycle Song Offerings is a generous filler, with Walmsley-Clark and the London Sinfonietta on fine form. David Kettle