A wonderfully imaginative disc combining a classic from the repertoire with new pieces and more recent ones all showcasing the trio's fine musicality.
Between Earth and Sea: Bax, Ashley John Long, Eloise Glynn, Hilary Tann, Sally Beamish; Trio Anima; Tŷ Cerdd Records Reviewed 11 January 2023 (★★★★)
Between Earth and Sea on Tŷ Cerdd Records is the debut release of Trio Anima, Matthew Featherstone (flute), Rosalind Ventris (viola) and Anneke Hoddinott (harp). The disc features Arnold Bax's Elegiac Trio new pieces by Welsh composers Ashley John Long and Eloise Glynn, existing pieces by composers Hilary Tann and Sally Beamish, along with arrangements of Dowland and folksongs.
Trio Anima was formed at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. The core repertoire for the trio is of course based around Debussy's sonata, but alongside performing the classics in the flute, viola, and harp trio repertoire the trio has a strong interest in new music and developing the repertoire. It is this that is at the centre of this disc with four substantial contemporary works alongside modern arrangements of traditional tunes. The recital begins, however, with a classic from the repertoire, Bax's Elegiac Trio; written in 1916, in the aftermath of the Easter Rising in Dublin, the work uses the same instrumentation as Debussy's sonata, a work Bax probably knew of, but was unlikely to have heard. Lyrically flowing and rather French in feel, the recording seems to place you wonderfully in the middle of the music, and the players give us a lovely blend of sound whilst keeping the contrasts of timbre. This is a very seductive sound world, the combination of Bax's rather Celtic melodies and the French atmosphere.
Next comes Somewhere becoming Rain by Ashley John Long, a composer and double-bass player who works both in the classical and jazz worlds. The title of his piece is taken from Philip Larkin's poem The Whitsun Weddings, and Long creates highly seductive and elusive textures. On first listening, I was struck not only by a Gallic elegance but also hints of Toru Takemitsu in the striking combinations of timbres, creating complex interactions between the three instruments. There is also a certain static element to the work, as if we were listening to a series of striking vignettes.
Next comes flautist Matthew Featherstone's arrangement of the traditional Welsh song Y Gwŷdd, given a lovely simple treatment with Featherstone's beautifully inflected flute solo over instrumental drones. Sally Beamish's Between Earth and Sea dates from 1997 and was written for the Nash Ensemble. Beamish describes the work as being 'based on an ancient Celtic caoine or lament, which has its source in the call of the redshank'. Evidently the redshank was held to represent the transition from life to death. Beginning with a haunting flute solo, answered by the viola, the piece develops into something intense yet austere in its writing, often haunted and evocative. And yes, rather French in textures too!
The trio's own version of John Dowland's song Flow my tears comes next, a beautifully atmospheric and effective arrangement that is not frightened to take Dowland into other territories. This is followed by Rosalind Ventris' striking solo viola arrangement of the traditional English folk-song best known as the hymn tune Kingsfold.
The second work commissioned for the disc, Song for an Ancient Tree by cellist and composer Eloise Glynn comes next. Glynn creates haunting and evocative textures whilst combining a flute melody that seems to be straight out of Japan with a very mellow English folk-influenced viola solo. The result is very effective and rather spare in its writing and seems to include some extended harp techniques at the very end. The harp is to the fore in harpist Anne-Marie O’Farrell's striking arrangement of the 18th century Welsh tune Slán le Máigh.
We end with From the song of Amergin by the Welsh-born USA-resident composer Hilary Tann which was commissioned by the Criccieth Festival in 1995. Tann explains that 'Three lines from Robert Graves’ restoration of the text from an ancient Celtic calendar-alphabet, the Song of Amergin, directly inspired the piece: "I am a wind: on a deep lake, I am a tear: the sun lets fall, I am a hawk: above the cliff." It is dramatic and intense, full of vibrant textures which seem to reinvent the flute, viola, harp genre.
Face with the relatively limited classical repertoire for the flute, viola, and harp trio, it must be very tempting for ensembles to want to revisit core pieces in their debut recital but here, Trio Anima has admirably decided to reinvent the recital as a showcase of both for young contemporary talent but for imaginative older works by living composers. The result has a remarkable feeling of artistic consistency, a testament to the imagination and musicality of the performers.
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