Orchestral Masters Vol 10. © 2023 Ablaze Records Pty Ltd

CD Spotlight

A Fascinating Recording

GEOFF PEARCE listens to new orchestral music conducted by Mikel Toms on Ablaze Records

'The playing from the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and overall sound of the works showcased is very good indeed, and the programme notes are excellent.'


This is the tenth collection put out by Ablaze Records with conductor Mikel Toms, showcasing new orchestral music. The quality of the recordings and performances is very high. The music is interesting and demonstrates the composers' mastery of writing for orchestra. I find that I like some works and composers more than others. In this current set, I like Hojin Lee's work the best, but there are six other composers showcased, and all are talented.

The first work, by Edward Smaldone (born 1956) is entitled June 2011 and is a little over eight minutes long. It starts with a brass fanfare and contains some jazz-inspired rhythms and melodies. Whilst there is considerable dissonance and energy at the beginning, there are also quiet reflective moments, especially in the middle, and the work is generally confident and optimistic in nature.

Listen — Edward Smaldone: June 2011
(ar-00067 track 1, 3:01-3:49) ℗ 2023 Ablaze Records Pty Ltd:

The title of Jeffrey Holmes' Straumr (2011) is from the old Norse language, meaning stream or current. It is in one movement, divided into nine sections and represents the power and nature of Scandinavian storms. As fitting the subject matter and title, this work, which takes over nine minutes, is full of mystery, darkness and power. There is a lot of variation depending which section of the water is being depicted.

Listen — Jeffrey Holmes: Straumr
(ar-00067 track 2, 6:20-7:15) ℗ 2023 Ablaze Records Pty Ltd:

Young Turkish composer Cem Güven (born 1997) is one to watch and has already been quite widely performed in the US, UK and Europe. His work Journey to the Dream Planet depicts a space journey to another planet, and I like his orchestration and the feelings he creates of an off worldly environment, especially with his use of bass pedal notes, percussion and florid passages in the rest of the orchestra. It lasts under eight minutes, is imaginative and never boring, and I think this would be a great piece for younger listeners with a great imagination as it is very atmospheric.

Listen — Cem Güven: Journey to the Dream Planet
(ar-00067 track 3, 3:18-4:00) ℗ 2023 Ablaze Records Pty Ltd:

FANG Ke (born 1996) provides the next work, entitled Dawn at Sea, where scenes from the composer's teenage years are pondered, and he reflects on how water, in all its moods, connects all life. His orchestration is lush, at times tender, delicate and elegant, and gains in hope and power. Most listeners will appreciate this work a lot.

Listen — FANG Ke: Dawn at Sea
(ar-00067 track 4, 3:04-3:50) ℗ 2023 Ablaze Records Pty Ltd:

Song of the Wind (2018) by ZOU Hao (born 1996) is a reflection on the composer's childhood memories and the feeling of being in another country, far from home. The main image he thinks of is of his mother singing a lullaby and his father handing him a kite string with the kite off in the distance in a blue sky. I feel that there are veils of time and distance, and there are many little snatches here and there. There are also darkish moments, perhaps signifying the uncertainty of change or possible nightmare moments, but they are fleeting and resolve quickly. This is very imaginative writing, making great use of the orchestral forces at his disposal. The work is quite approachable, and I got much enjoyment from it as there are some very beautiful moments.

Jason Phillips states that whilst his work Three Aspects is not programmatic, it does depict his journey from darkness as a combat veteran, to one of light and music. It generally has an anti-war theme. There are many different ideas and moods in this work, and sometimes it sounds quite frenetic and at other times serene. The work is about twenty minutes long, but one easily follows the progress of the work as the composer has a good idea of structure and, like all of the works here, he uses the orchestral palate well. This is quite a powerful work.

Listen — Jason Phillips: Three Aspects
(ar-00067 track 6, 15:43-16:43) ℗ 2023 Ablaze Records Pty Ltd:

The last work on this interesting disk is by Hojin Lee (born 1972), who observed a solar eclipse and, as a keen observer of the natural world, wrote Shadow of the Sun (2017) to reflect on what she saw and the feelings it conjured up in her. In my opinion, she is the most original and masterly orchestrator on this recording and she had me entranced at every turn. She contrasts the energy and vitality of the sun with the quiet serenity of the moon well at the various phases of the eclipse. Her textures are very clear and never thick, even in the most impassioned moments. I certainly want to hear more of her music.

Listen — Hojin Lee: Shadow of the Sun
(ar-00067 track 7, 10:20-11:06) ℗ 2023 Ablaze Records Pty Ltd:

This is a fascinating recording with much to be gained from repeated listening, but it will not resonate with everyone. The playing from the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and overall sound of the works showcased is very good indeed, and the programme notes are excellent. Ablaze Records' 'Orchestral Masters' series is well worth familiarising oneself with.

Copyright © 13 April 2023 Geoff Pearce,
Sydney, Australia




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