Music to Hear – Turnage on Black Box

0 of 5 stars

Mark-Anthony Turnage
Two Memorials (1997-2000)
An Invention on ’Solitude’ (1997-98 rev. 1999)
Sleep On (1992)
Cortège for Chris (1997)
Two Elegies Framing a Shout (1994)
Three Farewells (1990)
Tune for Toru (from True Life Stories, 1995-99)

The Nash Ensemble

Two Memorials – Martin Robertson, soprano saxophone

An Invention on ’Solitude’ – Richard Hosford, clarinet; Marianne Thorsen & Elizabeth Wexler, violins; Lawrence Power, viola; Paul Watkins, cello

Sleep On – Paul Watkins, cello & Ian Brown, piano

Cortège for Chris – Richard Hosford, clarinet; Paul Watkins, cello & Ian Brown, piano

Two Elegies Framing a Shout – Martin Robertson, soprano saxophone & Ian Brown, piano

Three Farewells – Philippa Davies, flute; Richard Hosford, clarinet; Marianne Thorsen & Elizabeth Wexler, violins; Lawrence Power, viola; Paul Watkins, cello; Skaila Kanga, harp

Tune for Toru – Ian Brown, piano

Reviewed by: Nick Breckenfield

Reviewed: July 2002

Black Box’s CDs of British contemporary music – Mark-Anthony Turnage (Music to Hear), Steve Martland (Horsepower), James MacMillan (Kiss on Wood) and Harrison Birtwistle (The Woman and the Hare) – are welcomed with open arms.

Turnage has at his disposal the estimable Nash Ensemble, unfortunately not individually named in the CD booklet (although saxophonist Martin Robertson is obviously the player of Two Memorials and Two Elegies Framing a Shout).The Internet link afforded by the CD offers more information, but for those who buy the CD simply for listening pleasure, it is a shame that space was not found to name the individual players…

As to the music, there is an introspective sadness that permeates these scores, many of which Turnage admits to be elegies for dead friends or colleagues. Two Memorials remember Martin Robertson’s mother and quondam teacher Steve Trier; the solo saxophone line has a tender but also austere quality that reminds me of the score to Mike Leigh’s early socially-realistic film “Meantime”. (Mike Leigh seems a good analogy for Mark-Anthony Turnage’s music in fact – works based on improvisation and close colleagues, with the heart very much worn on the sleeve.) Cortège for Chris was written in memory of Christopher van Kampen, the stalwart cellist of the Nash Ensemble and the London Sinfonietta; Turnage pays his tribute in this slow music by utilising not only cello and piano, but also clarinet.

The final movement of Two Elegies Framing a Shout uses material from the ’Junior Addict’ movement of Turnage’s Blood on the Floor, which centres on the death of Turnage’s brother; Tune for Toru – ending the CD with a rapt piano solo – responds to the death of respected Japanese composer, Toru Takemitsu.

Of the other delicate works, An Invention on ’Solitude’ is a clarinet quintet in all but name, marrying the world of late Brahms and Duke Ellington, albeit in Turnage’s distinctly modern milieu. I don’t know whether it has ever been programmed with Brahms’s Clarinet Quintet (to which it alludes), but it would be an absorbing coupling either in recital or on disc.

The title for the whole CD comes from the middle movement of the Three Farewells, based on Shakespeare’s Sonnet No.80 (although ’music to hear’ does not appear in the verse, which is quoted in full only on the Internet connection). This triptych requires the largest ensemble – flute, clarinet and harp joining string quartet – with each movement claiming a literary inspiration; the first (’Chorale’) from Brecht, the last (’All Will Be Well’) from Auden’s translation of “The Magic Flute”. Sleep On, three jewel-like miniatures, again shows Turnage’s measure of the yearning qualities of the cello, here assumed by Christopher van Kampen’s Nash successor, Paul Watkins.

Given that Turnage’s chamber-music is often given short-shrift (Andrew Clements in his overview of the composer in Faber & Faber’s series on contemporary composers – published in 2000 – barely mentions any of it), this CD is important and revealing. This rapt, expressive and deeply moving music forms a corollary to Turnage’s overt orchestral canvases and, as such, is a must for anyone interested in his development as a composer.

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