Continuum Ensemble / Philip Headlam / Nicholas Kok / Orchestra X

Errollyn Wallen: Photography - Orchestral Works

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The Belizean-English composer Errollyn Wallen, the first black woman to have her work presented at a Proms concert, has achieved considerable success with an accessible, percussion-heavy style that's eclectic in the best sense: Wallen borrows styles for a specific effect rather than for the novelty of pastiche. She has been known mostly for opera, but this enjoyable set should appeal to those interested in her orchestral works. Wallen may seem like an outsider with her multiplicity of styles, but she was academically trained and has pointed to the influence of the serialists in the importance she places on individual tones. Her music does not sound like that of the serialists, however, but has roots in British Romantic styles, in Britten, and in Vaughan Williams, with some influences from popular traditions overlaid on these. Photography, a four-movement orchestral work, is meant to evoke the experience of viewing photographs, but seems also like a series of snapshots of individual worlds, beginning with that of Bach. The best, perhaps, is saved for last: In Earth (2015) features a bass guitar and concludes with and leads up to Purcell's "When I am laid in earth," from the opera Dido and Aeneas -- sung in a natural voice by Wallen herself. The unexpected quality of this when it comes along is difficult to describe (sample it only if you dare to spoil the surprise), but this is precisely the appeal of Wallen's music. Wallen's Cello Concerto (2007) was commissioned by the Orchestra of the Swan and written for cellist Matthew Sharp, who plays it here. Wallen in her own notes describes Hunger (1996) as "a still but ravaged landscape." Highly recommended for those unfamiliar with this composer, who remains better known in Britain than elsewhere.

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