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British composer Symon Clarke, born in 1957, was new to me. His output has been varied and has often incorporated the gamalan and electronic instruments. His music, although contemporary, is fresh, original and quite listenable to, unless you are the type of music lover whose tastes run to hummable tunes - nothing wrong with that at all.
The first work, Secret Diversions (2003-4), consists of settings of nine poems by Denise Levertov, for soprano and ensemble. To quote the accompanying booklet: 'The poems are about the natural world - Although we are part of this world, we are also only observers of this other secret world that is once mysterious, frightening and lost to us.' The settings are all short, the longest being the last which runs at just over three minutes. The movements are paired with musical material being shared between them. The texture is delicate, quite intriguing to listen to and is intimate and intricate, without being dense or unapproachable. There are sounds that one can recognise or identify as being part of the natural world. The members of the Brno Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Mikel Toms and the singer Natalie Raybould have obviously spent much time delving into the essence of this music and add much to my enjoyment.
Listen — Symon Clarke: The Wound (Secret Diversions)
(track 4, 1:10-1:50) © 2020 Ablazerecords Pty Ltd :
Listen — Symon Clarke: Rage and Relenting (Secret Diversions)
(track 8, 0:36-1:15) © 2020 Ablazerecords Pty Ltd :
Listen — Symon Clarke: What Harbinger? (Secret Diversions)
(track 11, 1:12-1:50) © 2020 Ablazerecords Pty Ltd :
Time's Eye (2005), settings of seven poems by Paul Celan, has an Invocation and an Epilogue by the composer which is spoken by the singer. These words were born out of feelings the composer and his wife had when they took a trip to visit Auschwitz whilst in Poland, some fifteen years before the composition. I find in these works a delicate sadness. The poems themselves have varied subject matter, but the musical impact is quite profound. I particularly liked the third poem, 'Draft of a Landscape', the singer largely being accompanied by the beautifully played and haunting clarinet.
Listen — Symon Clarke: Draft of a Landscape (Time's Eye)
(track 16, 0:30-1:16) © 2020 Ablazerecords Pty Ltd :
The last work, Requiem (2016-17), is a setting of two poems by Osip Mandelstam, a poet who had a rather tragic life, and the settings reflect this. The first movement uses material from Bach’s The Art of Fugue - Contrapunctus XIX, which was incomplete, and the composer quotes a passage of it at the end of the first poem. The musical language is more varied in this movement, sometimes sparse and almost static in its stillness, and at other times quite dense and textural, and the vocalist has a lesser role than in other works on this disc. These two settings are much longer (at over eleven minutes each) and I have to say that I quite enjoyed them, although it is important to listen without any distraction at all.
Listen — Symon Clarke: Movement I (Requiem)
(track 23, 8:45-9:30) © 2020 Ablazerecords Pty Ltd :
I enjoyed this disc as the music is very well-written, thoughtful and beautifully performed. My only reservation (and it is a slight one), is that although the singer is very good, there are a few times when I feel her vibrato is a little wide for my taste. She is a very experienced performer and I am sure it was a judgement call on her part, as there are also times when she sings with very little, if any.
Copyright © 4 September 2020
CD INFORMATION - SYMON CLARKE: SONGS FOR THE LAST ACT