21st Century Violin Concertos

The violinist’s playing is rivetingly incisive throughout this recording of five 21st-century concertos. Richard Morrison, The Times

Harriet Mackenzie writes: This recording was inspired by my long-term working relationships with and respect for these composers. Contemporary music has always interested me. It is exhilarating to receive a score, often unseen by anyone else other than the composer. What is wanted? What is possible? Each piece a new discovery – a voyage into uncharted territories. When one is able to collaborate directly with the composer on a premiere it is a particularly heady mix. The five composers represented here are all now based in Britain, but there is a colourful tapestry of different ethnicities, cultures, interests and influences between them. I feel so lucky and privileged to have worked with each one of these composers with their unique and powerful voices. My hope is that this disk will bring more attention to their work. Each one of these works is a premiere recording, and I am thrilled that the composers were all present for the sessions. The new-ness of these pieces is a wonderful addition to the long-standing reputation and tradition of the ESO, an orchestra which has done so much to champion new and unknown British music for nearly forty years, including their associations with Tippett, McCabe, Maw and Joubert. Now, under the leadership of Kenneth Woods, I am proud that these works are part of that tradition. Harriet Mackenzie



In stock
Catalogue Number

The recording’s title is a tease. An Eventful Morning in East London is the name (almost) of Robert Fokkens’s violin concerto, one of five 21st-century concertos played by the indefatigably adventurous violinist Harriet Mackenzie on this superb release. However, although Mackenzie is a Londoner, Fokkens is South African. So his East London,in the Eastern Cape, is 6,000 miles south of Shoreditch. His concerto reflects it too. Fokkens has Charles Ives’s ability to enrich his own imaginatively orchestrated style with “found” music — in this case an outdoor African soundscape that seems to incorporate a passing funeral procession replete with snatches of Dies Irae as well as a jazz band. That makes for a fascinating 13 minutes. Yet it’s just one highlight on an album mixing the work of two older composers — Paul Patterson and David Matthews — working in a generally tonal idiom with the quirky new generation, represented by Fokkens, Emily Doolittle and Deborah Pritchard.

What unites them is an ability to create something fresh out of existing material. Pritchard’s Wall of Water, for instance, is a response to a series of Maggi Hambling paintings. I’m glad they aren’t reproduced in the accompanying brochure, because Pritchard’s music — growing out of a tiny, semitonal twist cloaked in otherworldly harmonics — paints its own pictures in the imagination. It is profusely atmospheric and virtuosically challenging, and it rises to an intense cadenza (a bit too arpeggio-dependent, perhaps) before imploding to where it started. Doolittle’s falling still has a similar atmospheric quality. The violin, representing a bird in flight, hovers over slow, lush string-clusters representing more inanimate sounds of nature. That suggests a latter-day Lark Ascending, but Doolittle’s style is far more astringent than Vaughan Williams and has a more elegiac hue. So does Matthews’s Romanza, which, despite its name, is a curiously unsettling piece in which the soloist moves from moodily impressionistic rhapsody to enigmatic Viennese waltz, where the balance between pastiche and irony is never quite fixed. To me it spoke of youthful joys recollected into ruefulness, if not despair.

By contrast, Patterson’s Allusions for two solo violins and strings (Philippa Mo is the other excellent protagonist) is pure pleasure, three movements each riffing on a different operatic character. The first, brilliantly energetic and manically contrapuntal, alludes to Falstaff and his tangled love life. The second, called Mindscape, refers to Don Giovanni’s encounter with the Commendatore, with the music rising from dark rumination to nightmarish crisis. And the third is a glorious postmodern riff on Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro overture, full of dizzy syncopations.

Mackenzie’s playing is rivetingly incisive throughout, and the conductor Kenneth Woods obtains exemplary accompaniments from the English String Orchestra and English Symphony Orchestra. Richard Morrison, The Times

An Eventful Morning Near East London, by Robert Fokkens, has the violin entering, and staying, in the extreme upper range of the instrument for some time. The opening note is a D-flat (or C-sharp) in alt, and she goes up from there. Moreover, the strings in the orchestra have similarly perilous lines to play. Eventually the rather calm opening becomes more agitated, and Fokkens creates some particularly interesting textures in the orchestral part behind her. It becomes busier and more bizarre as it goes along, yet holds the listener’s imagination by its sheer variety and quality of sound. Except for the fact that it has a more regular pulse, it almost sound like something that Leif Segerstam would have written! Eventually Mackenzie comes down in pitch to play some wavering drones on her instrument, which then lead to a brief but genuine melodic line, backed by soft chords played by low clarinets. This is a truly fascinating piece, indeed the highlight of this album. This is a terrific album, well worth a listen! Lynn René Bayley, The Art Music Lounge

© 2010-2023 Wyastone. All Rights Reserved.