This first recording of choral and orchestral music by James Francis Brown (b.1969) confirms the promise of his debut collection of chamber works on Guild in 2011. There’s much to enjoy here in music of crafted, refined eloquence and obvious kinship with Vaughan Williams at his most lyrical and elegant while retaining its own, articulate identity.
All three featured works were commissioned by the enterprising Presteigne Festival on the English-Welsh border and are led by the commendably light-fingered but sure-footed approach of its artistic director George Vass.
The Trio Concertante (2006) for violin (Benjamin Nabarro), viola (Rachel Roberts), cello (Gemma Rosefield) and string orchestra is a thing of pastoral delicacy and delight.
Catriona Scott is an evocative advocate for the Norfolk-inspired Clarinet Concerto (2008), which is animated and affecting in its innocent buoyancy and yearning prettiness. Setting three psalms for choir and orchestra, the title track (2016) rings out with refulgent brio, burnished melodies, vivid drama and winning joyfulness.
…the afternoon song-recital given by mezzo Rebecca Afonwy-Jones who, along with Rachel Roberts (viola) and Timothy End (piano) gave outstanding performances of works by Nielsen, Falla (Siete canciones populares españolas), Brahms (his Opus 91) and Edward Gregson’s superbly written Five Songs of Innocence and Experience…
…composer-in-residence Edward Gregson’s ‘Goddess’, [played] with warm sonorities and elegiac yearning from the viola soloist Rachel Roberts, sensual lyricism throughout, and a beautifully conceived ending where the music evaporated in shadowy threads of melody, harmonics and tremolo shivers.
The core repertoire for viola and piano is not extensive. Part of it are these three works, which violist Rachel Roberts and pianist Lars Vogt put together in a complex programme. Schubert’s Arpeggione Sonata seems to flow lightly, but is actually most profound music. Who else than the then only 27-year old composer could have so elegantly and skillfully translated life’s tragedies into music? Britten’s series of variations Lachrymae is a labyrinth of interwoven feelings with a sombre touch, posing the listener many a riddle. One senses the existential nature of Shostakovich’s last composition, too, the viola sonata op. 147, which was written by the dying composer in his last two months.
Rachel Roberts plays these masterworks with a light, breathing sound, which is never forced or pushed excessively. A simplicity prevails, never showing off or trying too much. Rather than mere size and volume, Roberts focuses on the variability of colours and subtle dynamic nuances.
It’s very convincing how Lars Vogt’s versatility helps shape this line. If the score demands it, he is able to grow to a real lion on the piano, and in the next moment retreat into the world of the quietest sounds. He has proven it many times as a chamber musician, especially at his own festival “Spannungen” in Heimbach, of which there are many live-recordings on the CAvi-label.
“Beethoven: Music in Revolution was the ambitious title given to this five-day festival, curated and performed by the Gould Piano Trio and friends. It offered an absorbing historical perspective on a composer who subverted rules, pushed boundaries and used shock tactics, as well as capturing his rigour and passion.”
“Violinist Gould and Frith combined fire and expressive power in Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata, and its pairing with Janáček’s Kreutzer Sonata string quartet, based on Tolstoy’s short story of the same name, was inspired. David Adams, Gould, Rachel Roberts and Alice Neary may not formally be a quartet, but the authenticity of the febrile and rich sound they created, together with their intensity of emotion, made this most memorable.”