Dutch composer Bart Visman (born 1962) has in common with many of his compatriots of his generation an absolute grasp of contemporary techniques combined with a lively, eclectic inventiveness, a knack for timbral distinctiveness, and a communicative directness that gives his works an immediate appeal. (In addition to his own diverse works, he has made a re-orchestration of Poulenc's Les mamelles de Tirésias and a version of Verdi's Macbeth as a children's opera.) The three works collected here are varied -- an instrumental septet, an a cappella choral piece, and an orchestral song cycle -- and offer a portrait of a composer with something to say and the know-how to say it convincingly. The Septet, for the unusual combination of string quartet, piano, piccolo and bass clarinet, is a colorfully quirky exploration of the timbral contrasts between the very low and the very high. New Heaven!, with texts taken from a poem by Robert Southwell and a Latin Marian antiphon, was written for the Gents, a men's ensemble led by Peter Dijkstra, performing it here. It's harmonically gorgeous; intensely chromatic, but driven by a surging lyricism. The song cycle Sables, Oxygène, with French texts by Saskia Macris, is identifiably tonal without ever sounding old-fashioned; this is a tonality shaped and enriched by the developments of the twentieth century. It, too, reveals the composer's gift for warmly imagined lyrical effusion and has an almost Mahlerian rhapsodic expansiveness in some of its movements. The performances are all first-rate, and soprano Barbara Hannigan, accompanied by Limburgs Symfonie Orkest, led by Ed Spanjaard, stands out for her sumptuous tone and expressive breadth.
The sound quality varies considerably because the three pieces were recorded in different venues. New Heaven!, recorded live, is the track where the sound is the greatest distraction, with a fair amount of rustling and audience noise, and there is some ambient noise in Sables, Oxygène.