Skempton: The Rime of the Ancient Mariner; Only the Sound Remains

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WORKS: The Rime of the Ancient Mariner; Only the Sound Remains
PERFORMER: Roderick Williams (baritone); Christopher Yates (viola); Birmingham Contemporary Music Group/Martyn Brabbins


Howard Skempton, the inimitable master of intimate miniatures? Think again. These mesmerising exemplars of his growing number of more expansive scores reveal his adroit pacing of events in larger canvasses. He judges the balance between reiteration and variety to perfection, while the typical Skempton traits – his remarkable clarity, deceptive simplicity and apparently familiar yet fresh and capricious language – are all here, conveyed with typical sensitivity by Birmingham Contemporary Music Group.

Taking its title from the first line in Edward Thomas’s poem ‘The Mill-Water’, Only the Sound Remains for viola and ensemble creates a compelling, idiosyncratic musical realm, the bubble only bursting with its unexpected conclusion. As such, it provides an instant corrective for anyone tempted to think Skempton’s extraordinary setting of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is sustained by the narrative. This gripping masterpiece, with its smaller ensemble of piano quintet with horn and double bass, is more claustrophobic, significance infusing every adjustment of instrumental colour and each nuance of Roderick Williams’s exceptional story-telling. Yet it is still Skempton, the verses unfolding with deceptive ease and the manner of a folk ballad masking his lightly worn sophistication. Do not hesitate to enter the enthralling world of this outstanding disc.


Christopher Dingle