Phoenix Rising; Loch Ness*; Poets in Love†
†Nathan Vale (tenor), †Simon Wallfisch (baritone), *Daniel Trodden (tuba), †Simon Callaghan, †Hiroaki Takenouchi (piano); BBC National Orchestra of Wales/William Boughton
Lyrita SRCD.372 62:49 mins
At 90, Thea Musgrave is a force of nature, her joy in life and music radiating through her varied, unpredictable works. They share a fresh sense of the dramatic, a quirky way of offsetting unexpected sonorities against one another and a clarity of structure and voicing that must keep her performers on their toes. Phoenix Rising is a large-scale tone poem, almost a concerto for orchestra, representing a journey from darkness to light across four contrasting movements. Soloists emerge from the orchestral ensemble – the timpani much exercised in the first movement ‘Dramatic, violent’, a plangent cor anglais in the second, ‘Desolate’, and the glitter of pitched percussion in the third. Premiered 20 years ago, it has matured well and deserves plenty more hearings.
Gentle humour is never far away in Loch Ness, written for the BBC Proms in 2012. The tuba, representing the elusive monster, surfaces to a suitably Celtic chorale against a background of mists and mysteries; soloist Daniel Trodden gives a genial performance as the contented, independent-minded Nessie. The BBC NOW under William Boughton presents accounts of both the orchestral works that are well formed and colourfully sympathetic. Poets in Love (2009) asks its singers to perform in Russian, English, German, French, Italian, Spanish and Latin. Nathan Vale has a rather slender timbre with a fast vibrato that seems to respond less successfully to Musgrave’s wealth of colour and emotion, but Simon Wallfisch is a strong, convincing baritone with plenty of attitude; piano duo Simon Callaghan and Hiroaki Takenouchi jointly are sensitive accompanists. Overall, a fine tribute to this splendid, unsinkable composer.