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on 1 December 2012
This is a most unusual set of three discs. It arises from a compositional project which challenged composers to write for for specific instrumental combinations that were rarely heard. There were a series of models on which these were based: Schubert's Trout Quintet (string combination with double bass), Mendelssohn's Concerto for Piano and Violin, Saint-Saens Septet, Enescu's Chamber Symphony for 12 Solo Instruments and Messiaen's Quartuor pour la Fin du Temps.
The first disc includes the Mendelssohn, Saint-Saens and Enescu. These are themselves a delight and relatively unfamiliar. The second and third dics then contain 17 of the 37 compositions inspired by this project. (the remaining 20 can be downloaded or purchased on separate CDs).
Each composition tells you which piece it was modelled on.
Of the many pieces here which are fascinating, the highlight for me was Avram's Ten Romanian Songs from Bela Bartok's Folk Music Collection. These pieces have been based on some of the 5000 folk melodies Bartok published but Avram has avoided using any Bartok used in his own works. They present fascinating rhythms and well worth listening to.
Bozicevic's Marittimo is an exploration of the sea. It certainly has minimalist tendencies with the constant movement of the water in the background.
This is a fascinating set of discs. Some unusual combinations of instruments, several with trumpet.
The Shakespeare quote on the cover from The Tempest: "Be not afeard: the isle is full of noises,
Sounds and sweet airs, that gives delight, and hurt not." You can buy this set with confidence and not be afraid.
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on 12 December 2012
This 3-disc box from Nimbus is the outcome of an enormous and valuable European project, one which commenced back in 2009. The idea was to ask composers to come up with works for unusual chamber ensembles for which `classic' models exist -
e.g. piano, trumpet and string quintet, a combination for which Saint-Saens wrote a gorgeous piece, which appears on disc 1. Incidentally, it's a serious omission that the trumpet player has not been credited, because his contribution here, as in the other pieces he plays in, is absolutely outstanding, fabulous playing, and his name is Huw Morgan (to be fair, he is credited for other tracks).
So disc 1 contains the 'models', while discs 2 and 3 give us 17 of the 37 pieces which resulted, and it makes fascinating listening, if only to underline the huge variety of stylistic personae available to modern composers. Some amount almost to `easy listening', notably Foglie d'Autunno ('Autumn Leaves) on Disc 3, which does stand out rather uncomfortably!
There are some obvious highlights, such as the Bartok arrangements on Disc 2 by Ann-Maria Avram, which, though not 'original' compositions, are thrilling re-creations of these fabulous pieces. Another work that I really enjoyed was Skelbred's 'Echoes of Time Lost', richly but delicately scored for a diverse ensemble of flute, oboe, cor anglais, clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, violin, viola, 'cello, double bass and piano. Subtle hints of Norwegian 'fiddle' music, against a shifting background - an impression of restlessness yet immobility.
And, as in the review by Wantage, I enjoyed the sea-inspired textures and movement of 'Marritimo' by the Serbian Ivan Bozicevic.
'Odyssey' is a good title for these wonderful discs; travel and explore!
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on 10 December 2012
The first of these three CD's introduces the three composition models which have inspired modern composers to produce works comprising similar groups of instruments. There is a slight complication here since while the basic works by Mendelssohn, Saint-Saens and Enesco are represented, other "derivatives" of Messiaen and Schubert appear on the later CD's without a "template" for comparison - not that anyone needs this for the "Trout Quintet".
The London Schubert Players deal excellently with the above quoted examples which precede the works on the two other CD's written in 2009-2010 - representing the output of 14 contemporary composers.
The Mendelssohn "Concerto for Violin, Piano and String Quintet" written when the composer was 14, is quite delightful although, at times, presenting the appearance of a violin and piano sonata accompanied, at times, by the rest of the ensemble but no less enjoyable for that.
The introduction of the trumpet to the piano and string combination by Saint-Saens was a response to a challenge presented by a group of friends with these instruments and gives a most pleasing result, fairly well followed by the modern examples. This leads to a most enjoyable listening experience in all cases.
The Enesco "Chamber Symphony" for assorted strings, woodwinds, trumpet and horn is quite different in form from the Mendelssohn and Saint-Saens offerings being, not surprisingly, much more 20th Century altogether. It is a most interesting piece repaying the effort of replaying.
The modern compositions on CD2 and CD3 may well set the pattern for chamber music to be composed in the 21st Century. The "Ten Romanian Songs" of Bela Bartok set by Ana-Maria Avram certainly evoke the rhythms and harmonics of the Balkans and emphasise the debt due to these by Hassidic music - of which examples appear in "Fiddler on the Roof". The four pieces modelled on the Saint-Saens Septet are probably the most firmly grounded in the original composer's genre.
These CD's make a worthwhile addition to the library of any chamber music enthusiast either as a comparison with the classical standards or as works in their own right.
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on 6 January 2013
What an enterprising Christmas present! Initially I was not too sure what to make of this, but I was soon won over to the idea. A European project of new music, inspired by existing chamber music from the C19 and C20, which seems to have received an enthusiastic ,(and skilled!), response.

I found the Schubert Ensemble very accomplished in their presentation of the "standard" works on Disc 1, especially the Enescu Chamber Symphony, which wasn't familiar to me. But I guess the real interest is how the living composers were inspired by them.

Probably the most striking item, to me, was by the Serbian, Ivan Bozicevic - "Marittimo" which is "an exploration of the mystery of the sea" (the composer's words). It conjured up the undulation of the waves, the great vistas, the cry of sea birds, and even the very smell of the sea for me, with just the resources of trumpet, piano and string quintet.

Meanwhile Salvador Torre's "Gershwin Tornado" bought the biggest smile to my face with its, brief, play upon the opening clarinet flourish from Rhapsody in Blue - making it for all the world sound like a police siren.

And if you're still not satisfied with the inspiration on offer, then go to the Wyastone Estate website and find the links to the European Odyssey. Follow these and you can gain access to additional works which formed part of the project but couldn't find their way on to the CDs.

A stimulating set then, very well recorded at live performances, mainly (though not exclusively), at London's Royal Academy of Music - albeit that the odd cougher makes themselves known.

All in all a set which, like a dog, isn't just for Christmas!
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