WORKS: Inside Story; The Still Dancers; Quadruple Elegy (in the time of freedom)
PERFORMER: Clio Gould (violin), Philip Dukes (viola); Vanbrugh String Quartet, BBC Scottish SO/Martyn Brabbins
CATALOGUE NO: MET CD 1059
Well, this doesn’t happen very often – at least not in the middle of a busy reviewing timetable. No sooner had I got to the end of Piers Hellawell’s Quadruple Elegy than I was reaching for the repeat button. As expected, this intensely lyrical, subtly original music revealed even more the second time around. The final movement of this violin concerto in all but name is particularly fine. Quiet harmonies progress like a slowed-down chorale, while the solo violin cuts across them with wide-spanning figures that echo one another but which never seem quite the same twice. You may sense Stravinsky in the background in all three pieces – in the complex dance-rhythms, in dislocated melodies, in the enriched tonal harmonies – but the effect is quite different. Hellawell has none of Stravinsky’s sadistic humour or straitjacketed ‘objectivity’; instead there’s refined pathos, exhilarating song and something close to a sense of awe.
It’s no surprise to discover that Hellawell finds nature so absorbing: the booklet contains some of his haunting photographs of rock, sand and water formations. A similar delight in sensuous natural geometry can be felt in The Still Dancers, and still more in the final movement of Inside Story. It’s hard to imagine this music better played, notably by the fine string soloists Clio Gould and Philip Dukes. The recordings
of the orchestral works allow us to hear plenty of detail without sacrificing atmosphere; sound in The Still Dancers is a little drier, but admirably clear.