Martyn Brabbins / Sharon Bezaly / Anthony Marwood / Royal Scottish National Orchestra

Sally Beamish: Violin Concerto; Callisto; Symphony No. 1

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AllMusic Review by James Manheim

Britain-to-Scotland transplant Sally Beamish wasn't just self-taught as an orchestral composer: you might say she learned by doing. According to her notes on this BIS release, one of a group covering her orchestral output, she had never written an orchestral piece or even studied orchestration when the city of Reykjavik, Iceland, commissioned her Symphony No. 1 in 1994. The result was a work full of unusual sonorities, rather loosely woven but constantly surprising, that drew on various features (formal and textural, not tonal) of the music of Scotland. Beamish's modernist idiom has evolved, but its basic orientation toward the expressive content of textures have remained. The two concertos that precede the Symphony No. 1 on this release are rarities in that they're modernist works with detailed literary programs; you might not guess them without knowing, but you certainly know something narrative is up. The Violin Concerto (also 1994) was inspired by three passages from Erich Maria Remarque's antiwar novel All Quiet on the Western Front; these are reproduced in the booklet. A cimbalom both provides a unifying presence and evokes the combination of tragedy and naked fearfulness in the book. The program for Callisto, concerto for flute and orchestra (2005), involves certain ideas (summarized in the booklet) from Ovid's "Metamorphoses." It is actually a concerto for four flutes, played separately, and orchestra, with the flutes (standard, alto, bass, and piccolo) representing the nymph Callisto in her various incarnations as hunter, victim of Juno's rage, bear, and constellation of stars. The work was composed for, and is ideally suited to, the talents of Israeli-Swedish flutist Sharon Bezaly, who plays all four flutes in the whirlwind finale and stirs up great momentum. The violin concerto is also played by its dedicatee, Anthony Marwood. A fine example of the BIS label's effort to revive the virtuoso aspect of concert music, here inflected in the direction of somewhat greater difficulty. Although the album combines the previously released Callisto with new recordings of the symphony and violin concerto, all the music was recorded at the same time, in the superbly appropriate Henry Wood Hall in Glasgow. Booklet notes are in English, German, and French.

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