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Then there's Lyra Celtica. We are informed that it 'was written for Maud MacCarthy, who possessed the ability to sing in the 22-tone microtonal scale of Indian classical music; this is presumably why the solo part of Lyra Celtica includes such scales.' More innovative stuff, and it goes down so well with Stephen Johnson that he writes, in the BBC Music Magazine: 'The Impressionistic "voice concerto" Lyra Celtica just gets better with each hearing -- rosettes to Susan Bickley for squeezing so much meaning from a simple "ah"!'

I too have listened to Lyra Celtica several times in a vain attempt to discover the 'meaning' of it all. And each time I find it outlives its welcome long before the sixteenth, and final minute. As an exercise in vocal stamina and technical prowess, it can't be faulted. But, musically, it seems to be headed nowhere in particular: a bagatelle with delusions of grandeur; Syrinx with knobs on.

Lyra Celtica is one of two première performances on the disc. The other is Apotheosis (Elegy), for violin and orchestra, and I confess to having a soft spot for this work [listen -- track 8, 2:59-4:04]. Dating from 1907 it's decidedly sub-Elgar, again with a touch of Richard Strauss, but it's much tauter, more self-disciplined. And, incidentally, there's a lovely line for the flutes which has to be the inspiration for Ronald Binge's famous Sailing By; a reminder that Foulds earned his living as a composer of light music. (These two composers actually rub shoulders on one of Ronald Corp's excellent Hyperion discs.)

That leaves the Three Mantras from Avatara, composed over a lengthy period and finally completed in 1930, and it's the best thing on the disc by a country mile. There is such precision in this piece, so strong a sense of musical and intellectual cohesion; and, above all, the feeling that the composer has finally found his own voice and knows exactly what he wants to say with it.

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Copyright © 11 January 2005 Rex Harley, Cardiff UK


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