Turnage: A Constant Obsession; Three for Two; Four Chants; A Slow Pavane; Grazioso!

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LABELS: Resonus
WORKS: A Constant Obsession; Three for Two; Four Chants; A Slow Pavane; Grazioso!
PERFORMER: Nicky Spence (tenor); Chamber Domaine/Thomas Kemp (violin)


Closing down options can be surprisingly liberating for a composer. Mark-Anthony Turnage has created some of the most luxurious orchestral canvasses in contemporary music, but it’s clear that his imagination also thrives when he’s limited to chamber forces.

Just nine instruments accompany the tenor soloist in A Constant Obsession, and most of the time they’re used very sparingly. But the result is a score of strong colours and equally strong emotions. Its subject – the pains of love and loss – is as old as the song cycle itself; which just goes to show that the old ones are often the best. Turnage acknowledges Britten as a musical forefather here, but I’m also reminded of Peter Warlock’s song cycle The Curlew.

Nicky Spence is a superb soloist here – elegant expressive lines and a firm sense of pitch – and Chamber Domaine is excellent throughout. A Slow Pavane, for piano trio, is especially telling, its very slow dance rhythms creating a fragmented elegiac mood that lingers after the disc is over – even after the sharp-edged, jazz-inflected Grazioso! has finished. The recordings, too, are outstanding in their vivid clarity and lifelike balance.


Stephen Johnson