Sunday 7 March 2021

A Life On-Line: Welsh song, 20th-century quartets and quintets, Lamentations old and new

Britten: Phantasy Quartet - Scottish Chamber Orchestra (Photo taken from live-stream)
Britten: Phantasy Quartet - Scottish Chamber Orchestra (Photo taken from live-stream)

This week we celebrate St David's Day with Welsh song, whilst the Scottish Chamber Orchestra gave us an imaginative programme of 20th century chamber music, the Swan Consort mixed old and new in support of Mind, and Frederick Keel's Salt Water Ballads from Düsseldorf.

Monday was St David's Day, and to help celebrate soprano Elinor Rolfe Johnson and pianist Gavin Roberts gave a recital of Welsh art song as part of Wales Week London 2021. The recital was a mixture of songs in Welsh, arrangements of Welsh folk-songs and songs in English, all by Welsh composers. We began with Morfydd Owen (1891-1918), an intriguing figure who studied first in Cardiff and then at the Royal Academy of Music. In London her social circles moved between both the Charing Cross Welsh Presbyterian Chapel and London intellectual circles in Hampstead, and she would end up marrying the psycho-analyst Ernest Jones (a follower of Freud). Despite dying at the age of 27, she wrote a considerable amount of music including a number of well-known hymns. Rolfe Johnson and Roberts performed one of Owen's best-known pieces, Gweddi y pechadur (The Sinner's Prayer), a sober sacred song from 1913. If Owen's work intrigues you, then keep digging as there seems to be very little available on disc.

Next came a song by another composer whose name was new to me, Meirion Williams (1901-1976). Pan Ddaw'r Nos (When the night) was rather lovely with some intriging moments in the harmony and made you interested to hear more. Nicholas Olsen (born 1995) is a rather more recent figure, and we heard a couple of his songs, Geriau Yn Fy Mhen (Words in my head) and Wishing, the setting a haiku by Keith Jewitt with a very striking and distinctive texture. 

Next followed a pair of songs by Alun Hoddinott (1929-2008) which made you wonder why we don't hear more of this composer's songs. The settings of poems by Christina Rosetti (from the song-cycle One must always have love) and by Ursula Vaughan Williams (from the song-cyle Th' Silver Hound) were full of lyricism and imagination, magical and fascinating and made me interested in hearing the full cycles. A group of Hoddinott's arrangements of Welsh folk-song followed, always imaginative and striking. The final group were Welsh songs moving us rather closer to the parlour, with Elen fwyn (Sweet Elen) by R.S. Hughes (1855-1893), Y blodau ger y drws (The flowers by my door) by Meirion Williams and Ynys y Plant (The Children's Isle) by E.T. Davies (1878-1969). [Wales Week London]

The Scottish Chamber Orchestra's on-line season returned with a programme of chamber music by Britten, MacMillan and Prokofiev, performed by Maria Włoszczowska and Amira Bedrush-McDonald, violin, Felix Tanner, viola, Donald Gillan, cello, Nikita Naumov, double bass, Amy Turner, oboe and Maximiliano Martín, clarinet. We began with Britten's Phantasy Quartet, a striking early work for oboe and string trio written when he was still a student at the Royal College of Music. Perhaps, more importantly, the work uses the single-movement arch construction that Britten's teacher and mentor Frank Bridge was fond of in his Phantasy works. A beautifully crafted piece which showed off Amy Turner's fine oboe playing. Next something more intense. MacMillan's Tuireadh for clarinet and string quartet; written in the wake of the 1988 Piper Alpha disaster, the work was written as musical complement to the memorial sculpture created by Sue Jane Taylor and unveiled in Aberdeen in 1991. The title is Gaelic for lament, yet whilst MacMillan includes Gaelic influences the piece, the austere overall soundworld is contemporary. A stunning piece. Finally another work that I had never come across before, Prokofiev's Quintet, written in 1924 for oboe, clarinet, violin, viola and double bass (an intriguing line-up indeed). It is related to his circus ballet Trapeze, and the six movements were lively and colourful, with the players enjoying the composer's unusual sonorities. [Scottish Chamber Orchestra]

The Swan Consort, a vocal ensemble created by artistic director Anita Datta, presented Lamentations, a programme of meditative music in aid of the charity MIND. The programme mixed Josquin's Miserere, and Robert White's Lamentations a 6,  alongside contemporary pieces with Lacrimosa by the 17-year-old Tiara Oberoi,  a striking short work which won the Young Adjudicators’Prize at the Commonwealth Composition Challenge 2020, and Pro Dolorosa which was written for the Swan Consort by Dawn Walters. The programme was released on

I first met the young baritone Jake Muffett when he was at the National Opera Studio, and he kindly sang in the chorus for my opera The Gardeners in 2019. He is now at the Opera Studio of the Deutsche Oper am Rhein,  Düsseldorf where he has recorded a terrific account of the Salt Water Ballads, four settings of John Masefield by Frederick Keel (1871-1954). Keel wrote at least one of the songs whilst he was confined in the  Ruhleben internment camp near Berlin during World War I. [YouTube]

BCMG continued its on-line season with Back to the beginning, a striking programme of music by British and Chinese composers, interleaving music by Sir Harrison Birtwistle (born 1934), Oliver Knussen (1952-2018), John Woolrich (born 1954), Julian Anderson (b. 1967), Charlotte Bray (b.1982) with music by Jia Guoping (b.1963) and Ma Xiao-Qing (b. 1996). Ma Xiao-Qing's Back to the Beginning for solo violin was a world premiere and part of BCMG's innovative Sound Investors commissioning programme. [BCMG]

The English Symphony Orchestra is presenting a programme of music by American composer Steven R Gerber (born1948), and no I had not come across him either. Born Washington DC, and now living in New York, his composition teachers included Robert Parris, J. K. Randall, Earl Kim, and Milton Babbitt. It is well worth an explore. [English Symphony Orchestra]

Clare Norburn's Love in the Lockdown has started, and the first two episodes are live, with Alec Newman and Rachael Stirling, plus The Telling. A lovely, intimate play with music which makes great use of the fact that we now talk to our computers on a daily basis in lieu of people. [The Telling]

The blog is free, but I'd be delighted if you were to show your appreciation by buying me a coffee.

Elsewhere on this blog
  • To counter the way memory disappears and fades into the background: composer Raymond Yiu on the ideas, both musical and personal, behind the works on his latest disc - interview
  • An intimate & private piece: Heinrich Biber's Requiem in a superb new account from Vox Luminis & Freiburg Barockconsort on Alpha - CD review
  • The Catalyst Quartet's Uncovered: the young American ensemble explores the chamber music of Coleridge-Taylor - CD review
  • A Musical Zoo:Ashley Riches and Joseph Middleton's delightfully wide-ranging recital on Chandos - CD review
  • Winter into Spring: Oxford Lieder Festival's Spring weekend concludes - concert review
  • La La Hö Hö: Sixteenth-century viol music for the richest man in the world from The Linarol Consort - CD review
  • To delight the eyes and ears without the risk of sinning against reason or common sense: the creation of Reform Opera  - feature
  • What would Bach do? Guitarist Yuri Liberzon on recording the Sonatas for Unaccompanied Violin in transcriptions by his teacher Manuel Barrueco  - interview
  • An engaging surprise: written for the Portuguese court, Pedro Antonio Avondano's Il mondo della luna receives its first recording - CD review
  • Challenging and surprising: on arb, clarinet and bassoon duo, Zachary Good and Ben Roidl-Ward explore multiphonics  - CD review
  • I wonder as I wander: baritone James Newby in a stunning debut recital with pianist Joseph Middleton  - CD review
  • Beyond Solidarity: Composer and Ivors Academy board member Daniel Kidane talks frankly about 2020 and a watershed moment for diversity in music - feature
  • Home

No comments:

Post a Comment

Popular Posts this month