Saturday 18 March 2017

Viola Dolorosa: contemporary music for viola and piano

Peter Seabourne - Viola Dolorosa
Peter Seabourne Pieta, Britten Elegy, Lachrymae; Georg Hamman, Akari Komiya; Sheva
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Mar 14 2017
Star rating: 4.0

Passionate and intense, contemporary British music for viola

Though prolific as a composer, Peter Seabourne is not a well-known name, though his work has had some significant success. This disc on Sheva Contemporary, Viola Dolorosa, from viola player Georg Hamann and pianist Akari Komiya pairs Britten's Elegy and Lachrymae with Seabourne's Pieta.

Born in 1960, Seabourne studied at Cambridge with Robin Holloway and at York University and had some national success with his music, but he became dissatisfied with his work and with the new music world. He eventually abandoned composition for some 12 years, only returning to it by chance in 2001. Since 2004 he has had some significant success and won a number of international prizes. The Italian label Sheva has issued a number of discs of Seabourne's piano music and this CD complements that with music for viola and piano. More of Seabourne's music can be heard online via his YouTube channel.

Seabourne's Pieta for viola and piano was written for Georg Hamann, who is the violist in the Aron Quartet. It is a large-scale piece lasting over 35 minutes, inspired partly by the Pieta statues of Michelangelo. Each of the five movements takes a different character, yearning, questioning, resignation, anger and reminiscence.

Seabourne's language is tonal but highly chromatic, always passionate and not a little romantic. Pieta is remarkable for the concentrated intensity of the music over such a large scale, and for the remarkably demanding viola part which is superbly played by Georg Hamman. This is complex music, taking tonality to its limit.

The opening Berceuse is, for all the gently rocking figure, passionate and highly melancholic. Enigmas starts off rather angry and evokes the music of Shostakovich, and though the music quietens it retains the remarkable intensity which characterises the work. Elegy is quiet and almost etherial, at times becoming rather eerie. Seven Roads has outbursts which are angry and violent alongside the more thoughtful. Reminiscence starts out quiet and bleak, almost worn down with all the emotion of the previous movements.

Hamann and Akari accompany the Seabourne with two viola works by Benjamin Britten. First the early Elegy for solo viola which was sketched in 1930 but never taken further.  This is a powerful piece; this version was edited into a performable version after Britten's death. Lachrymae: Reflections on a song of  Dowland is perhaps best known in Britten's later orchestration of the work for viola and string orchestra. The original version for piano and viola was premiered by William Primrose at the Aldeburgh Festival in 1950. The Britten forms an interesting parallel with the Seabourne, as both use an intense and complex language which is based on tonality. Hamann and Akari give a finely controlled account of Lachrymae, bringing out the quiet intensity of the piece and highlighting the myriad continental links in Britten's music. We hear Britten filtered through Hamann's knowledge of European writing for the instrument rather than the lyrical English School.

Peter Seabourne (born 1960) - Pieta
Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) - Elegy
Benjamin Britten - Lachrymae
Georg Hamman (viola)
Akari Komiya (piano)
Recorded Vienna 2014/15
SHEVA SH132 1CD [58.02]
Available from Amazon.

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