0 of 5 stars

Alastair Stout
Empty Fathoms
Elizabeth Maconchy
Diana Burrell
Double Image
Claude Debussy
Richard Rodney Bennett
Sonata after Syrinx
Tansy Davies
Anthony Payne
A Sea-Change

Sarah O’Flynn, flute; Emma Fielding, oboe; Stuart King, clarinet; Helen Cole, harp; Martin Cousin, piano; Marcus Barcham-Stevens, violin; Emily Davis, violin; Reiad Chibah, viola; Clare O’Connell, cello)

Reviewed by: Steve Lomas

Reviewed: January 2002

CHROMA is an ensemble comprising young British musicians already pursuing freelance careers; it has a flexible membership favouring strings, woodwind and keyboard in the manner of groups like the Nash Ensemble. Its approach to repertoire is also comparable in the mixing of established composers with upcoming talents, something amply demonstrated in the present recital, loosely themed around the water nymph Syrinx, which offers a cross-section of British composition from the last forty years.

Aquatic imagery abounds in the music on this disc and nowhere more clearly than the opening of Empty Fathoms by Alastair Stout. This is a beautifully controlled study in gently proliferating detail, impressionistic but with every detail counting (a trait that may have been intensified by the composer’s studies with Simon Holt). Another maritime study by Stout appears on NMC’s recent “The Hoxton 13” that I reviewed [click here]; I find the present work more focussed and altogether more successful, although both pieces attest to the emergence of a composer whose development will be interesting to follow. CHROMA’s performance is exquisite.

Another ’Hoxton 13’ composer is Tansy Davies, whose Undertow comes as something as a shock in the context of the other works on this CD in its insistent manner and stark constructivism. Even in the hushed coda, the music has a steely resolve that nags in the memory after the piece is over.

Diana Burrell’s Double Image is in two self-contained but cross-referenced movements and is full of bold, expressionist gestures. A lack of clear direction in the first movement is compensated for by the sustained intensity of the second; CHROMA performs with real conviction. Curiously, there is a certain lack of that quality in the performance of Maconchy’s Reflections, which could have benefited from a more playful approach. The work itself is effortlessly inventive, with memorable ideas and strongly etched harmonic colourings.

Bennett’s Sonata after Syrinx is one of several pieces he’s based on Debussy’s Syrinx for solo flute (which precedes the Bennett here in a beautifully modulated performance by Sarah O’Flynn). Using the same flute, viola and harp combination as Debussy’s late sonata, Bennett’s work is both a demonstration of the potency of its source material and of the fecundity and resourcefulness of Bennett’s musical imagination. What is remarkable about Sonata after Syrinx is the way in which Debussy’s original is kept close to the surface yet is taken on a journey that is very much Bennett’s own, as if Debussy continued his flute solo by alternative means. A masterly creation fluently realised by CHROMA.

With characteristic bluntness, Anthony Payne freely admits that the improvisatory quality of A Sea-Change is the result of having too little time to do any elaborate pre-compositional planning. Certainly the austere post-serial harmony and schematics of earlier works such as Phoenix Mass have here yielded to a supple and sensuous third-based musical language. Nonetheless, A Sea-Change achieves the feat of sounding both spontaneous and tautly controlled in its trajectory.

The chosen works complement each other well in a satisfying and highly enjoyable sequence with just the right amount of grit amongst the lotuses. The recording has a boxy acoustic albeit one that is warm and well-balanced. This is a CD for playing on a balmy summer evening with figs and Chablis to hand.

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