Gramophone Awards Shortlist 2016
age, might be that human uncertainty and pain are bound to be more true to life than angelic confidence and calm – or so Jacob’s ascending vocal line at the end, refusing to emulate the angel’s self-assurance, seems to suggest. Angel Fighter owes as much to terse commentaries from choir and instruments as to extended dialogues between the admirable solo singers, and Atherton couples scrupulous attention to detail with exemplary alertness to the steadily unfolding shape of the whole. With Virelai, a short, sharp rejigging of ancient musical fragments in an entirely contemporary spirit, this CD is a pungent and persuasive statement about what properly serious music can achieve today. Arnold Whittall
Maxwell Davies . A Panufnik Maxwell Davies Symphony No 10, ‘Alla ricerca di Borromini’a A Panufnik Symphony No 10b a Markus Butter bar London Symphony a Chorus and Orchestra / Sir Antonio Pappano LSO Live MÍ LSO0767 (58’ • DDD/DSD • T/t) Recorded live at the Barbican, London, aFebruary 2, b October 19, 2014
Both these 10th symphonies acknowledge the time‑honoured four‑movement prototype, yet they could hardly be more different from each other. Andrzej Panufnik’s was written in 1988 for the Chicago SO and despite its brevity has a spaciousness and energy that suggest allusions to the kind of American qualities found, for example, in Copland. Panufnik doesn’t deal in destabilising contrasts but his characteristically insistent rhythmic and intervallic patterning sustains the overall design in this late work as it moves to its quiet yet celebratory close. The sense of certainty and security brought out in this accomplished performance will seem all the more assured if heard immediately after the tensions between celebration and questioning that predominate in Peter Maxwell Davies’s Tenth (2013‑14).
This four-part symphony was written during a period of hospital treatment for leukaemia; but the basic concept, as a composition ‘in search of’ the Italian architect Borromini, preceded that diagnosis. It has its roots in the composer’s time as a student in Rome and represents the latest stage of his concern to explore musical equivalents for the innovative architectural structuring he admires in Borromini. The deeply engaged gravity of the enterprise is established in the first part and intensified in the short third part, both purely orchestral.
In contrast, part 2 combines a choral setting of a forceful attack on the architect’s radical ways with elements from his defence stressing his acknowledgement of the importance of musical performance in churches. Part 4 centres on Borromini’s despairing testament, written as he lay dying, while the chorus intones the names of buildings he designed. This recording of the work’s premiere is notable for the degree to which all involved manage to convey so much of the music’s dramatic sweep as well as its symphonic substance. The divergence between the character of the vocal writing and the more complex style of the purely orchestral movements is just one of the ways in which the work challenges conventional understanding of what is symphonic, but it coheres as a profoundly personal musical statement, bringing together some of the most fundamental ideas and issues to have concerned Maxwell Davies throughout his long career. Arnold Whittall
Murail Le partage des eauxa. Contes cruelsb. Sillagesc b Wiek Hijmans, bSeth Josel elec gtrs aBBC Symphony Orchestra; bcNetherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra / Pierre-André Valade Aeon F AECD1222 (62’ • DDD)
Le partage des eaux (1995‑96) is one of Tristan Murail’s best works, so although this first-rate BBC recording was made back in 2002, its release is very welcome. Murail points out that the title does not refer to ‘the Hebrews crossing the Red Sea’. His own associations are less with Debussy – despite the use of swirling surges that distantly echo La mer – than with Richard Strauss, and it is no exaggeration to say that this scintillating score does for oceans what Strauss’s Alpine Symphony does for mountains. It is a finely sustained evocation of a force of nature, and a mightily impressive demonstration of how to use a large orchestra in innovative but never merely eccentric ways.
The other works included make a less satisfying impression. Sillages – ‘furrows, traces, imprints left in water, sand, gravel’ – dates from 1985 and comes across today as a rather dutiful exercise in post-Boulezian atmospherics: you can be absorbed by its refinement and moments of intensity without being swept away by Le partage des eaux’s kind of dramatic energy. Contes cruels (2007) is even more enigmatic. While nothing if not complex acoustically – it features two electric guitars tuned a quarter-
tone apart, with a relatively small orchestra and electronics – it references a ‘cruel tale’ by Villiers de l’Isle-Adam about a percussionist who is driven to distraction by the demands of an unattractively radical composition. The problem is that, for much of its 20-minute length, Murail’s piece seems rather restrained and uneventful, despite the exotic and disruptive possibilities of the sound-sources in use. Perhaps the whole point is to downplay the fireworks that a Ligeti might have brought to the subject. But it reinforces the conclusion that Le partage des eaux is the principal and compelling reason for acquiring this disc. Arnold Whittall
Silvestrov ‘To Thee We Sing’ Alleluia. Liturgical Chants – Cherubic Songs; Alleluia; O Holy God; Ave Maria. Diptych. Two Sacred Chants. Two Sacred Songs. Two Christmas Lullabies Latvian Radio Choir / Sigvards Kļava Ondine FÍ ODE1266-5 (60’ • DDD/DSD • T/t)
At a first listening, this hour-long selection of Silvestrov’s a cappella choral music gives an impression of sumptuous solace, suffused by the warm, swimming acoustic of St John’s Church in Riga. Scratch a little deeper, however, and this contemplative recital reveals an astonishing richness which invites repeated listening. It has the effect of a healing balm and I cannot recommend it too highly for those who require restoration from life’s vicissitudes.
The Latvian Radio Choir under Sigvards Kl,ava sing, as expected, with a scintillating beauty. None of this programme, composed between 1995 and 2006, could be labelled technically easy. Fortunately the singers’ intonation, balance and blend are absolutely first-rate. Nearly all of this ‘metaphorical music’, as Silvestrov terms it, is either slow or very slow. There are stylistic hints of Poulenc, Pärt and Górecki, perhaps; certainly the ghost of Rachmaninov hovers reverentially overhead. But Silvestrov is definitely his own man with his tuneful, naive and floating music.
The disc’s centrepiece is the dark Diptych, the second part of which, ‘Testament’, is a setting of Silvestrov’s fellow Ukrainian Taras Shevchenko (1814‑61). Its liquid beauty is breathtaking. On a lighter note, the Alleluia of 2006 is much daintier, almost waltz-like. Where Silvestrov really makes his mark is in his endings, with scrumptious clustered chords suspended in mid-air. More please! Malcolm Riley
22 GRAMOPHONE AWARDS 2016