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Classical Music Review

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Composer: Anna Clyne
Conductors: Marin Alsop, Sakari Oramo, Andrew Litton and André de Ridder
Performed by: BBC Symphony Orchestra, Jennifer Koh (violin) and Irene Buckley (vocals)
Label: AVIE Records
RRP: £13.99
Release Date: 16 October 2020

Composer Anna Clyne releases Mythologies, a portrait album of five orchestral works recorded live by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, via AVIE Records. Works included on the album include 'Masquerade' (2013) led by Marin Alsop; 'This Midnight Hour' (2015) conducted by the BBC Symphony Orchestra’s Chief Conductor Sakari Oramo; 'The Seamstress' (2014-2015), led by Oramo, featuring violinist Jennifer Koh performing live with a recorded recitation by vocalist Irene Buckley, 'Night Ferry' (2012) conducted by Andrew Litton, and '<<rewind<< (2005-2006)' led by André de Ridder...

Anna Clyne's Mythologies consists of five very different orchestral works and it's this diversity that for me was one of the main highlights.

Describing the album in his liner notes, classical music journalist Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim writes: "Just as all mythologies draw water from the same well of archetypes, her compositions mine folk traditions in order to construct sound worlds in which the familiar and the surreal come together as in a dream. Clyne’s popular appeal comes from a listener’s dual sense of recognition. Her melodies seem distilled out of collective memory, yet delivered with the high-voltage energy of our over stimulated time."

'Masquerade' (2013) was commissioned by BBC Radio 3 to open that year’s Last Night of the Proms at Royal Albert Hall and captures the exuberant spirit of that quintessentially English ritual. Conductor Marin Alsop led the performance on this live, world premiere recording. The title refers to the 18th-century promenade concert, an outdoor festivity that was spiced with acrobats, fireworks and street entertainers.

'This Midnight Hour' (2015) , conducted on this recording in a live performance at The Barbican by the BBC Symphony Orchestra’s Chief Conductor Sakari Oramo, was commissioned by the Orchestre National d’Île de France and Seattle Symphony. It takes its inspiration from two poems – one by Juan Ramón Jiménez, who describes music as a naked woman running mad through the pure night, and Charles Baudelaire’s 'Harmonie du soir', a sickly-sensuous evocation of evening, in which a trembling violin leads the poet in a waltz that teeters between melancholy and vertigo.

'The Seamstress' (2014) is one of a number of works Clyne wrote for violin in the wake of personal loss. It was commissioned by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and pairs an acrobatic violin solo part with a whispered voice that recites William Butler Yeats’ poem 'A Coat'. The imaginary, one-act ballet alludes to folk fiddle traditions and is built on a twelve-tone row, a rare device for Clyne. This recording, conducted by Oramo, features violinist Jennifer Koh performing live at The Barbican alongside the orchestra with a pre-recorded recitation of the poem by vocalist Irene Buckley.

The sharp intakes of breath that start to appear about a third of the way through are cleverly introduced. At first it sounds like a poor mix; that the production has accidentally left in the breathing of one of the musicians, but as it moves forward it soon becomes part of the performance. This track also reminded me of Danny Elfman's wonderfully gothic score for Tim Burton's Batman Returns.

For 'Night Ferry' (2012) , Clyne painted a seven-panel mural showing a churned up expanse of water with black-tentacled waves, blood-red eddies and a ship silhouetted before a fiery sky. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra commissioned this work to be performed alongside music by Schubert. Inspired by the violent mood swings Schubert suffered alongside bouts of manic creativity (a condition called cyclothymia), Clyne wrote a piece about stormy voyages in space and of the mind. The title is taken from Seamus Heaney’s 'Elegy for Robert Lowell', a poet who similarly suffered from manic depression. The performance on this album was led by conductor Andrew Litton at The Barbican.

It's bizarre, because I'm lucky enough to have never suffered from depression yet this piece really took me from a high point to an incredibly low and dark place. The music conjures up images of a rough sea, without leaning on the many cliches that have come before.

Speed as an elemental force is the subject of '<<rewind<< (2005)', a seven-minute wild ride was inspired by the image of a video tape being scrolled backwards, with glitchy spots where it skips, freezes or warps. The original version, for orchestra and tape, was composed in 2005 for choreographer and Artistic Director of Hysterica Dance Company, Kitty McNamee. '<<rewind<<' was premiered by the Manhattan School of Music Composers Orchestra led by conductor David Gilbert. Conductor André de Ridder led the live performance on this album, recorded at The Barbican.

A beautifully presented collection of intricate and subtly layered pieces.


Darren Rea

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