Sunday 28 February 2016

Michael Csányi-Wills - songs with orchestra

Michael Csanyi-Wills - Songs with Orchestra
Michael Csányi-Wills Songs with Orchestra; Ilona Domnich, Nicky Spence, Jacques Imbrailo, Londamis Ensemble, Mark Eager; Toccata Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Feb 25 2016
Star rating: 5.0

Mining his own family history, Michael Csányi-Wills produces songs of remarkable lyric power and intensity

This disc from Toccata Classics presents first recordings of new work by the British composer Michael Csányi-Wills, works in a form which is relatively unpopular nowadays, the song with orchestral accompaniment. Soprano Ilona Domnich, tenor Nicky Spence and baritone Jacques Imbrailo are accompanied by the Londamis Ensemble, conductor Mark Eager, in Three Songs: Budapest 1944, Six AE Housman Songs and Elegy for Our Time. Three Songs: Budapest 1944 mines Csányi-Wills own family history (his grandmother left Hungary just before the Second World War) with texts written by Hungarian Jews in 1944, sung by Ilona Domnich. Six AE Housman Songs uses six poems from Housman's A Shropshire Lad with the songs divided between Nicky Spence and Jacques Imbrailo. Elegy for Our Time sets a poem by Jessica d'Este, sung by Ilona Domnich.

Michael Csányi-Wills trained at the Royal Academy of Music, but listening to the songs in Three Songs: Budapest 1944 I was struck by the European influences finding traces of Mahler and Kurt Weill in the writing. Csányi-Wills also writes for films and his orchestral writing has a wonderful immediacy, fluency and complexity. Three Songs: Budapest 1944 set texts written by those persecuted by the Nazi supported regime in Hungary. The "Waldsee" Postcard is a text from a postcard written by someone who was held in a concentration camp, the card send back to relatives to convince that the sender is well. The Siege is the extract from a diary written during the latter days of the war when Budapest was besieged by the Russians. The final song The Last Letter, is the last letter Csányi-Wills' great-grandmother wrote before she disappeared.

Csányi-Wills writes tonal, lyrical vocal lines which soprano Ilona Domnich sings in a powerfully expressive manner, bringing her beautiful distinctive voice to bear on music which is both attractive and powerfully intense. The final song, with its cries of 'vergesst mich nicht' (don't forget me) is particularly striking with its almost Mahlerian bleakness. The songs set German texts (two were originally in Hungarian, but Csányi-Wills felt German was more singer friendly whilst being the official language of the Austro-Hungarian Empire), and this only goes to highlight the links between Csányi-Wills expressive and darkly emotional music and that of previous generations.

The first three of Csányi-Will's Six AE Housman Songs were written for a baritone friend, but the second three are written for tenor voice so the six songs are shared between Jacques Imbrailo and Nicky Spence ('Farewell', 'On Moonlit Heath', 'Carpenters Son', 'On the idle hill of summer', 'As through the wild green hills of Wyre'). The move to English brings a sense of the English lyrical pastoral into the mix. But there is still that sense of complexity and drama, along with a magical sense of orchestra sonority. These are in no sense conventional English settings of Housman, and Csányi-Wills European sensibility brings a darkness and expressionist feel to the music. By the fourth song 'On the idle of Summer' (the first one sung Nicky Spence) another influence is evoked that of Gerald Finzi and his great cycles for voice and orchestra, though the song goes somewhere darker. By contrast 'White in the Moon' is wonderfully transcendental whilst 'As through the wild green hills of Wyre' is large and complex. These are long, big songs (the six songs last almost 40 minutes) and both Jacques Imbrailo and Nicky Spence impress with both their commitment to the songs, and the lyrical intensity of their performances. My one small cavil is that I would have liked the song alternating voices to give a sense of variety.

The final song sets a poem by Jessica d'Este which is a meditation on death, and the waste of innocent vulnerable youth. The bleakly powerful lyric arioso for Ilona Domnich is surrounded by a web of magical orchestration (with woodblocks making a strong feature).

Throughout, Mark Eager and the Londamis Ensemble play with a strong sense of the emotional character of the music. The performances from Ilona Domnich, Nicky Spence and Jacques Imbrailo, the Londamis Ensemble and Mark Eager have a high finish and sheen which belies the fact that they are all first recordings. This is a highly satisfying disc of music by a very distinctive talent.

Michael Csányi-Wills (born 1975) - Three Songs: Budapest 1944 (2009-15) [16:06]
Michael Csányi-Wills (born 1975) - Six AE Housman Songs (2009-13) [39.38]
Michael Csányi-Wills (born 1975) - Elegy for Our Time (2015) [5.55]
Ilona Domnich (soprano)
Nicky Spence (tenor)
Jacques Imbrailo (baritone)
Londamis Ensemble
Mark Eager (conductor)
Recorded 4-5 August 2015, St Augustine's Church, Highbury
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