Sound Out presenter Ian McGlynn chooses five of his favourite new releases and recordings featured in April that you might have missed...
Salonen & Saariaho: Works for Solo Cello - Wilhelmina Smith (Chandos)
This album from cellist Wilhelmina Smith presents solo works by modern Finnish composers Salonen and Saariaho that explore the possibilities of both the instrument and the performer. Saariaho was one of the featured composers in this years’ New Music Dublin festival, and her piece here Spins and Spells is certainly bewitching.
She composed it for a scordatura (or a re-tuned) cello and based the piece on spinning patterns paired with timeless moments, that center on sound color and texture, reminding us of the music and sounds of another age, while giving us something fresh and new.
The Last Hotel – Enda Walsh & Donnacha Dennehy (Cantaloupe Music)
The worlds of theatre and opera collide in The Last Hotel by writer-director Enda Walsh and composer Donnacha Dennehy, boasting a stellar cast of Claudia Boyle, Robin Adams, Katherine Manley and the Crash Ensemble conducted by Alan Pierson, with actor Mikel Murfi as the silent and ominous Porter.
The story is a grim one, of an Irish woman who wants to kill herself and hires an English husband and wife to help her, and though there are stark and frantic moments, there is quiet and beauty too. This is the aria And they are Coming Home, sung towards the end of the opera where Claudia Boyle’s 'Woman' despondently asks ‘Singing of lost love and a terrible place where no devotion can satisfy that has led here to this place. Surely it must end…’
Bernard Rands: Chains Like the Sea - BBC Philharmonic, Clark Rundel (NMC Records)
Sheffield-born composer Bernard Rands has been championed by Pierre Boulez and Luciano Berio and for his 80th birthday in 2014, he was celebrated in a series of concerts by the BBC Philharmonic and the Royal Northern College of Music. Five years later, NMC Records have released the recordings to mark his 85th birthday.
The album includes his Cello Concerto (1996), composed for the great Mstislav Rostropovitch, and Chains Like the Sea, which employs welsh folk themes and texts by Dylan Thomas. But the most recent work on the album is his Danza Petrificada, which commemorates the centenary of the Mexican revolution. Described as a moody tone poem, the work takes its’ title from a text by poet Octavio Paz that describes ‘a petrified dance under the clouds that make and unmake and never stop making themselves always in transit toward their future forms.’
Arvo Pärt: The Symphonies - Nfm Wrocław Philharmonic, Tõnu Kaljuste (ECM Records)
Last month we included two live concerts of works by the great Estonian composer Arvo Pärt, who amongst other things is famous for his signature tintinnabuli style, most notably in the poignant Spiegel im Spiegel.
One of the pieces programmed in this concert by conductor Tõnu Kaljuste was a major work composed before Pärt developed that style, his Symphony No.3 written in 1971. The symphony marked a return to composing following a transitional period, and is very influenced by Part’s own interest in early Gregorian chant and polyphonic music, but seen through his minimalist lens.
This is a different recording to the one we heard, which isn’t available as a commercial recording, but does feature conductor Tõnu Kaljuste with the Nfm Wrocław Philharmonic.
Grace Williams: Chamber Music - London Chamber Ensemble, Madeleine Mitchell (Naxos)
Grace Williams is often referred to as the most prominent female Welsh composer, but she also wrote the first Welsh symphony and was the first female composer in the UK to composer a film score, in 1949.
Like our own often-neglected composer Ina Boyle, Williams studied under Ralph Vaughan Williams, alongside her contemporaries Benjamin Britten and Imogen Holst. And while Boyle fought to have her works performed, Williams was very critical of her own compositions and lacked confidence. When she revisited some of her first manuscripts while in her fifties, she scribbled ‘not worth performing’ across them.
The album includes many undiscovered chamber works, some of which only came to light when Royal College of Music professor Madeleine Mitchell uncovered her Violin Sonata, which had lain undiscovered at a Welsh music information centre in Cardiff. But one of her most interesting works here is the Suite for Nine Instruments (1934), which was greatly admired by Benjamin Britten. But perhaps the highest praise of all comes from Williams herself, who described it as ‘more satisfying than anything else I’ve done’
Ian McGlynn presents Sound Out every Sunday evening 9-10pm on RTÉ lyric fm, an exploration of the latest music from Irish and international artists and composers, including a weekly gig guide and a listen to new releases - listen back here.