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Jonathan Harvey: Speakings CD

3.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review

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Product details

  • Orchestra: BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
  • Conductor: Volkov
  • Composer: Jonathan Harvey
  • Audio CD (9 May 2011)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Format: CD
  • Label: Aeon
  • ASIN: B003H2E3A6
  • Other Editions: MP3 Download
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 339,975 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Track Listings

Disc: 1

  1. Scena for Violin and Ensemble - Elizabeth Layton/BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
  2. Jubilus for Viola and Ensemble - Scott Dickinson/BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
  3. Speakings for Large Orchestra and Electronics - BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra

Product Description

Product Description

1. Scena for Violin and Ensemble
2. Jubilus for Viola and Ensemble
3. Speakings for Large Orchestra and Electronics

Review

Plainchant, Buddhist ritual and magical electronics variously permeate the three works here, written by Harvey between 1992 and 2008. They all centre around the idea of a voice, but without using a singer. Scena is like an abstract opera, heard through layers of mysterious sound: the pianist, one of a small ensemble including harp and guitar, sometimes uses a weighted ping-pong ball, and the diva herself is a rhapsodic solo violin. Jubilus, for viola and ensemble, draws on Harvey's fascination with Tibetan ritual chant, and Speakings explores the evolution of speech through timbre and texture. As ever with Harvey, the results are both calming and vital. --Fiona Maddocks, The Observer, July, 2010

All three works on this disc are developments from other pieces. They speak of Harvey s vivid aural imagination: he conceives music not as series of notes, but as fluid soundscapes. The most substantial is Speakings, partly derived from Harvey s Sprechgesang. The orchestra s phrases reflect the rises and falls of human speech, while human sounds, from a baby s cry to Paul Scofield reading TS Eliot, are subject to complex manipulations by computer in the score s electronic strand. Under Volkov, precise and committed, all the playing is excellent. --Stephen Pettitt , Sunday Times, July 2010

A modern masterpiece is finally set down on disc. No experience in contemporary music has so bewitched and bewildered me as sitting in Glasgow s City Hall a few years ago listening, utterly enthralled, as Jonathan Harvey s Speakings received its Scottish premiere performance. Ilan Volkov conducted the BBC SSO, while the geniuses of Ircam, the renowned French acoustic institute, worked their computerised magic on Harvey s mesmerising score, giving the orchestra the appearance of near-vocalising. The hall itself seemed to be a living organism, breathing and speaking with the orchestra. Though the eagerly awaited recording does not and cannot replicate the sheer sense of space of that experience, the trajectory of this great piece, ultimately a work of profound contemplation, is totally lucid, with its wonderful central climax, its mantra-like chant, and a coda that drifts away weightlessly to another world. One of the great monuments of contemporary music from one of the most gentle, wise, thoughtful and serene characters with whom it has been my great pleasure to speak and learn. --Scottish Herald Sept 2010

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Format: Audio CD
Jonathan Harvey (b. 1939) is one of the most important of contemporary British composers. His music incorporates varied conceptual realms -- both serialism and spectralism, both his sacred Anglican music background and his current Buddhism -- and many years working with electroacoustic sonics. His 2008 NMC disc of orchestral works was one of his best yet, and so I had high hopes for "Speakings for large orchestra and electronics" which completes a Buddhist triptych along with "Body Mandala" and "...towards a Pure Land" from that disc. As it turns out, I find it to be the least compelling of the three works on this 2010 Aeon disc, all performed by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, led by Ilan Volkov. Harvey's residency with the orchestra from 2005-2008 also produced the excellent NMC disc. The common thread linking all three pieces on this disc is the human voice.

"Scena for violin and ensemble" (1992 -- 16'11) features Elizabeth Layton on violin and an ensemble of nine. The violin part moves through five linked tableaux, each meant to evoke an operatic scene -- Lament, Mystical Event, Romantic Event, Dream, and Metamorphosis. So the violin takes the part of a soprano singer. "Scena" begins with great agitation, and ends in peace and stillness, a theme that runs throughout the work of the Buddhist composer.

"Jubilus for viola and ensemble" (2002 -- 25'53) features Scott Dickinson on viola and an ensemble of eight. I find this to be the best of the three works, a slow, meditative piece. According to the liner notes by Bruno Bossis, "[t]he composer had imagined a music that would evoke the image of a solitary monk chanting in a chapel on Mount Athos.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x87a437bc) out of 5 stars 2 reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x87bea204) out of 5 stars Three ensemble works inspired by the rhythms of speech, but not a standout Harvey recording 7 July 2012
By Christopher Culver - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
This Aeon disc of music by Jonathan Harvey, released in 2010, makes a nice programme in that these three pieces are purely instrumental, but concerned with the rhythms of speech and song. Ilan Volkov leads the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, and the soloists are Elizabeth Layton (violin) and Scott Dickson (viola).

"Scena" (1992) is a quasi-operatic scene where the diva is a violin. The opening "Lament" is an anguished movement for strings which will appeal to fans of Kaija Saariaho. The following "Mystical Event" is marked by the appearance of lush woodwinds, which also appear in the following "Romantic Event". The fourth movement, "Dream" consists of slow tremolando swells. The final "Metamorphosis" involves the whole ensemble and is unabashedly melodic, and are those references to classic Boulez vocal works I hear? "Scena" is a great example of Harvey in communication with tradition. Unfortunately, on this recording the whole work with its varied movements is placed on one CD track. Look to the Montaigne recording with Irvine Arditti's performance to get a better sense of the piece's structure.

"Jubilius" for viola and 8 instruments (2002) features instrumental writing that begins with allusions to Gregorian chant and ends in the soundworld of Tibetan Buddhism. The writing for brass alludes to traditional Himalayan horns. It's pleasant enough, but I find this piece pretty lightweight, especially after "Scena".

In "Speakings" (2008), we move to a full orchestra and electronics. Though no actual words are distinguishable, the electronics and instrumental writing mimic the waveforms of speech, the emotional element is latent under the words themselves. In the first of the three movements, the speech alluded to is the babbling of babies. The second movement, adult language is employed, with a more variable and conflicting texture than the first. But towards the end of this second movement, the music turns towards unity with bells and a rising trombone motif. This represents the "purification of speech" in the Buddhism that Harvey espouses, and the speech basis for this moment is a Buddhist mantra. In the last movement, the music continues this spiritual tranquility, now based on a plainchant hymn.

Though I had high expectations for "Speakings", as there were some excited reports from live performances, I find the piece curiously underwhelming. I don't share a fellow reviewer's opinion that Harvey's works with electronics are less effective, but in this particular case the piece may well depend on its 8-channel spatialization, that can't be reproduced on this stereo CD. I hope that an SACD recording might see the light of day.

I generally find Harvey one of the most interesting composers of the last several decades. However, since the presentation here of "Scena" is inferior, "Jubilus" is kind of lightweight and home listeners may miss the point of "Speakings", it's hard to rate this disc very highly.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x87beabb8) out of 5 stars Two string concertos and a major electro-acoustic work 6 July 2011
By Autonomeus - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
Jonathan Harvey (b. 1939) is one of the most important of contemporary British composers. His music incorporates varied conceptual realms -- both serialism and spectralism, both his sacred Anglican music background and his current Buddhism -- and many years working with electroacoustic sonics. His 2008 NMC disc of orchestral works was one of his best yet, and so I had high hopes for "Speakings for large orchestra and electronics" which completes a Buddhist triptych along with "Body Mandala" and "...towards a Pure Land" from that disc. As it turns out, I find it to be the least compelling of the three works on this 2010 Aeon disc, all performed by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, led by Ilan Volkov. Harvey's residency with the orchestra from 2005-2008 also produced the excellent NMC disc. The common thread linking all three pieces on this disc is the human voice.

"Scena for violin and ensemble" (1992 -- 16'11) features Elizabeth Layton on violin and an ensemble of nine. The violin part moves through five linked tableaux, each meant to evoke an operatic scene -- Lament, Mystical Event, Romantic Event, Dream, and Metamorphosis. So the violin takes the part of a soprano singer. "Scena" begins with great agitation, and ends in peace and stillness, a theme that runs throughout the work of the Buddhist composer.

"Jubilus for viola and ensemble" (2002 -- 25'53) features Scott Dickinson on viola and an ensemble of eight. I find this to be the best of the three works, a slow, meditative piece. According to the liner notes by Bruno Bossis, "[t]he composer had imagined a music that would evoke the image of a solitary monk chanting in a chapel on Mount Athos." The viola part is based on plainchant. Gradually the West is replaced by the East, with an evocation of a Buddhist monastery and "a monk contemplating [on a rocky Tibetan mountaintop] and attempting to transcend his earthly attachments." The Tibetan ritual chant that forms the basis for the viola part comes from the Drukpa Buddhism of the Tibetan Kagyupa tradition. "The piece ... end[s] in a kind of sonic ecstasy in the highest register."

"Speakings for large orchestra and electronics" (2007-8 -- 28'00) in three movements, is quite technically and conceptually innovative. Harvey was assisted by Gilbert Nouno, Arshia Cont and Gregoire Carpenter of IRCAM in creating an electronic part triggered by a MIDI keyboard. "The overall idea of the work is to simulate the learning of speech by the orchestra," and the purification of speech, in Buddhist terms, following the earlier works' themes of the purification of the body ("Body Mandala"), and the purification of the mind ("...towards a Pure Land"). Recordings of human speech, including babies, was recorded and transformed to create the electronic part -- this involved impressive technique.

Part I signifies incarnation, birth, and the speech of babies. Part II signifies the speech of adults -- "frenetic chatter." This second movement culminates in a most impressive passage with bells tolling and a repeating upward three-note motif on trombones. It seems to signal enlightenment. Part III is calm and peaceful, "like some vast, resonating temple." I wish the overall result more effectively conveyed Harvey's vision, but I don't find the first two movements to be very compelling. Once again, as with his earlier BHAKTI, I am underwhelmed by his use of electronics. A much more effective electroacoustic work for orchestra also released in 2010 is York Holler's SPHAREN on Neos.

The best music here is the acoustic music and the previously mentioned BODY MANDALA on NMC, one of his best sets, does not employ electronics. So for anyone just investigating Harvey's music, that is my recommendation for where to start. This Aeon disc is worth seeking out if you know you find Harvey's soundworld compelling, especially for "Jubilus."

I also strongly recommend the recent Complete String Quartets & Trio, also on Aeon. It includes one of Harvey's best electro-acoustic works, the String Quartet No. 4, with Nouno providing live IRCAM electronics.
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