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Ready or Not (Palaver Strings)

Sophie Michaux (mezzo-soprano); Palaver Strings (Azica Records)

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

Ready or Not
Bacewicz: Concerto for Strings; Casulana: Il desiderio; Liz Knowles: Treehouse; Jig for John #2; Fore Street; Akenya Seymour: Fear the Lamb; Strozzi: Diporti di Euterpe
Sophie Michaux (mezzo-soprano); Palaver Strings
Azica ACD-71342   49:20 mins

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Palaver Strings takes its name from a West African ‘palaver hut’, a place in which people traditionally gathered to resolve conflicts and engage in discussion. And this lively debut recording from the American string ensemble carries the concept through to its programme, which sets female composers from across history in dialogue with each other.

I’ll deal with the quibbles first. With around 50 minutes of music, there is surely room for another piece to fill out the album. It’s a shame, too, not to have a text included for Barbara Strozzi’s Lagrime mie, sung here with febrile intensity by mezzo-soprano Sophie Michaux, with a beefed-up string accompaniment arranged by Adam Jacob Simon. Nor does the recorded sound give the strings enough space to breathe.

Where the release does score highly is with its lively performances, given without a conductor. Bacewicz’s Concerto for String Orchestra flies off the page, with the players’ energy matching the vigour of the Polish composer’s writing. A brief taste of music by Maddalena Casulana, who set a precedent when she became the first woman to publish her own music, left me wanting more, while the folk language of Liz Knowles and Elizabeth Moore’s set of fiddle tunes – Treehouse, Jig for John #2 and Fore Street – ends the disc in upbeat style.

Yet the most notable contribution is Akenya Seymour’s Fear the Lamb, a three-movement piece telling the story of Emmett Till, the African-American teenage boy who was tortured and brutally murdered in 1955 as a result of racism. If not every moment is as musically telling as it might be, Fear the Lamb still hits its emotional mark.

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Rebecca Franks