Nicholas Maw (born 1935) was one of the leading voices in British composition to emerge around the middle of the twentieth century, and "Scenes and Arias" (1962) was the work that established his reputation. Maw's text is an anonymous love poem written around 1300, whose alternation of lines in French, English, and Latin is wonderfully charming and evocative. The work, made up of 10 musically contrasting verses, is scored for soprano, mezzo-soprano, contralto, and large orchestra, and although its harmonic language owes much to the tradition of serialism, the music's shape is sumptuously Romantic. Maw's lyrical, soaring use of the three women's voices gives the piece much of its sensuous sheen; it's easy to see why it created a sensation at its premiere, and it remains a compelling and appealing vocal and orchestral showcase. In this 1975 recording, Jane Manning, Anne Howells, and Norma Procter, veterans of the British new music scene, negotiate the demanding lines with confidence and finesse, and the BBC Symphony Orchestra, led by Norman del Mar, plays with Straussian fullness and passion. Anthony Milner's (1925-2002) talent was less bright than that of Maw, as the two cantatas recorded here demonstrate. "Salutatio Angelica," a sacred work in honor of Mary, is earnest and well crafted in a basically tonal idiom, but the music rarely takes flight. "Roman Spring" is based on Medieval Latin poetry (including some of the same texts as Carmina Burana) and uses a more varied tonal language, but is essentially a pedestrian piece of writing. The Maw alone, though, makes this a CD that should be of interest to fans of twentieth century British vocal music.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Eddins
|Scenes and Arias, for 3 female voices & orchestra|
|Salutatio Angelica, cantata for voice, choir & orchestra, Op. 1|
|Roman Spring, cantata for 2 voices, choir & orchestra|