Clyne: Dance (CD Review)

Also, Elgar: Cello Concerto. Inbal Segev, cello; Marin Alsop, London Philharmonic Orchestra. AVIE AV2419.

By Karl W. Nehring

A while back I came across the name of composer Anna Clyne. I can’t remember exactly where or when, but my guess it was some reference to her in either a music publication or, more likely, something I saw on Twitter. In any event, not long after that, I mentioned her name to Bill Heck during the course of a phone conversation. To my surprise and delight, Bill responded that he and his wife had attended a concert by the Pro Musica Chamber Orchestra in Columbus, Ohio, where they had both been greatly impressed by a piece titled Within  Her Arms – a piece written by none other than Anna Clyne.

Intrigued, I checked Amazon for a recording, but alas, there was none to be found. I was soon able to audition it, however, thanks to YouTube, where I found a video of a live performance. Like Bill and Mary, I too was greatly impressed. I quickly sent the link to another music-loving friend, who was also impressed. How is this wonderful music not yet available on CD?!

Fast-forward several months and I see an ad in Gramophone for a CD featuring a work titled Dance by Ms. Clyne. My interest is aroused to the point that I immediately submit a request for a review copy. Fast-forward another couple of weeks and Dance shows up in  my mailbox. Fast-forward another hour or so (hey, it was dinnertime) and Dance is spinning in my CD player, where it has since remained on heavy rotation.   

Anna Clyne
London-born composer Anna Clyne (b. 1980), who now resides in upstate New York, composed Dance as the result of a commission from Israeli-American cellist Inbal Segev, who premiered the work at the 2019 Cabrillo Festival. Segev has now recorded the piece with the LPO under the direction of conductor Marin Alsop, who had first introduced Segev to Clyne. Dance comprises five moments with rather unusual titles: I. when you’re broken again; II. if you’ve torn the bandage off; III. In the middle of the fighting; IV. in your blood; V. when you’re perfectly free. In the liner notes, Clyne, whose own instrument is also the cello, explains that “I knew that I wanted to write a multi-movement work in which each movement had its own personality, its own character. I’ve known this Rumi poem for a while and always thought it would be a good source of inspiration – it’s short, has repetition, a clear form of five lines and a strong physicality (for example, ‘broken open,’ ‘in your blood’). It also has a sense of urgency that I found compelling for this piece. It was a great way to structure the piece – to break it up into the five lines of the poem.” 

The first movement is slow, lyrical, and utterly beautiful. When I first listened to it, I was surprised that it did not seem at all dance-like. Only later, upon finally reading the liner notes, did I realize that Dance was never intended to be a suite of dances, as I had blithely assumed. This opening movement may not be a dance, but whatever it is, it is certainly gorgeous.

The second movement, which does sound a bit more dance-like, opens energetically and then soon features some fierce eruptions from the cello. There are some skittish melodies scurrying up and down in the strings, a yearning motif on the violin, and a stately, courtly dance figure from the cello. The overall mood is imaginative and playful, with an abrupt ending. It is this movement that exposes, alas, a sonic flaw with this recording. The cello is just pushed too far forward, to the point where it can sound gigantic, dominating the soundstage when Ms. Segev digs in hard.

The third movement adopts a slower pace and more somber tone. The melodies are  simpler, with the overall feeling being rhapsodic in nature. There is some pleasant interplay with the woodwinds before the movement comes to a peaceful conclusion.

Marin Alsop
The fourth movement opens with Segev’s cello sounding serious and reflective. As the music proceeds, her playing grows more frantic. Tympani stokes herald a shift to a slightly martial undertone. To my imagination  at least, the feeling evoked as this movement continues is suggestive of someone fighting against fate, trying to escape from some form of entrapment. For those listeners who might have reservations about music by contemporary composers, please allow me to point out that this composition is tonal, overflowing with recognizable melodies and themes.     

The fifth and final movement begins with low notes from the cello, perhaps expressing a sense of agitation. As the movement unfolds, you can sense a hint of Jewish melody (think Bloch, for example) from time to time as the playing seems to whipsaw between two modes, frantic and measured. My notes read, “Portrait of indecision?” The ending of the movement – and the piece as a whole – is calm and settled. All in all, Clyne, Segev, Alsop, and the LPO have given us 25 truly enjoyable minutes of music.

But wait, there’s more! If you call now, AVIE will throw in a performance of the venerable Cello Concerto by Sir Edward Elgar!

Seriously, though, although the focus of the release is the Clyne, this disc also includes a truly fine performance of the Elgar, which was composed 100 years prior to Dance. I would venture that many music lovers who follow this blog are familiar with the Elgar and may well have a favorite recording. Or two or three.

I must confess that although I have been a lover of classical music for 50 years now, and am now 71, it has only been within the past five years or so that I have finally begun to have much interest in the music of Elgar; indeed, only within the past two years or so have I been able to develop an actual love for some of it, the twin peaks of my Elgarian affection being his Violin Concerto (Hilary Hahn makes my heart flutter!) and Cello Concerto (Jacqueline du Pré makes me gasp at her passion and energy!). Although Segev does not play with quite the passion of du Pré, she does bring passion to her interpretation, clearly communicating a love for this deeply moving music. Segev plays the Elgar with lyrical precision.

Fortunately, the forwardness of her cello in the mix is not as obtrusive as it is in the Clyne. Perhaps the engineers backed off a little for this session, or perhaps Elgar’s score serves to make the orchestra more assertive in its role. The much older du Pré/Barbirolli recording is darker in tone, sounding at once a bit warmer and more natural; however, the modern Segev/Alsop recording sounds more focused and clear. Both recordings present the Elgar as a sublime combination of intellect and emotion, and both recordings include wondrous disc-mates (the AVIE with Clyne’s Dance, the EMI with Elgar’s Sea Pictures sung by the incomparable Janet Baker).

Despite my quibbles about the engineering, my enthusiasm for both the music and the performances leads me to give this new release from AVIE a highly enthusiastic recommendation. It also leads me to wish ever more fervently for more recordings of music by the most remarkable Anna Clyne. Bring it on!

KWN

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below:
 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simpleminded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Arcam CDS50 CSD/SACD CD player, Goldpoint SA4 Passive Preamp, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE loudspeakers. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my cell phone. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer

Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.

The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to that classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Recently I’ve rebuilt--I prefer to say reinvigorated--my audio system, with a Sangean FM HD tuner and (for the moment) an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a transport, both feeding a NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, which in turn connects to a Legacy Powerbloc2 amplifier driving my trusty Waveform Mach Solo speakers, supplemented by a Hsu Research ULS 15 Mk II subwoofer.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job. --John J. Puccio

Contact Information

Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to classicalcandor@gmail.com

Readers with impolite, discourteous, bitchy, whining, complaining, nasty, mean-spirited, unhelpful letters may send them to classicalcandor@recycle.bin.

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa