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Tansy Davies: Nature, etc

Norwegian Radio Orchestra, Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, et al (NMC)

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

Tansy Davies
Dune of Footprints; Nature*; What Did We See? (Suite from the opera Between Worlds); Re-greening†
*Huw Watkins (piano); Norwegian Radio Orchestra/Karen Kamensek; *Birmingham Contemporary Music Group/Oliver Knussen; †National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain
NMC NMCD 260   68:26 mins

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Shamanism and the human fascination with divine energy is a recurring theme in Tansy Davies’s work. The piano loosely represents a spiritual intermediary in Nature (2012), the single-movement concerto that gives its name to this latest NMC release. Davies characterises the solo part – performed here by Huw Watkins – as a maenad, a frenzied female follower of Dionysus’s. The composer’s considered use of colour is beautifully drawn out by the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, led by Oliver Knussen. (This recording was made in 2014 by BBC Radio 3, not long before Knussen died.)

Re-greening for large singing orchestra, commissioned and performed by the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain (NYO), is a glorious post-pastoral tapestry that laces traditional English song with whispering wind and rumbling percussion. Based on the Shamanic Wheel of the Year – an annual cycle that highlights solstices and equinoxes – Re-greening summons the growth and restoration associated with each season. Davies’s distinctive language – ideally rendered by the NYO – gives an edgy update to the so-called Cow Pat School-style of music popularised by Vaughan Williams, Finzi, et al.

Davies’s poignant opera Between Worlds (premiered in 2015 by English National Opera) depicts a mixed group of people – including a Shaman – in New York during the 9/11 attacks. The music has been reworked into a four-movement orchestral suite, performed here by the Norwegian Radio Orchestra. While the lack of voices diminishes the storytelling, this repurposed version benefits from a tighter structure. The same ensemble performs the craggy Dune of Footprints.

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Claire Jackson