Bright size life: reinvigorating the pastoral in Errollyn Wallen latest disc

The latest disc from the NMC stables is a brilliant set of works by British composer Errollyn Wallen which reinvents the English tradition both of pastoral string writing - so beloved of composers such as Vaughan Williams and Britten - and aspects of the Baroque, quoting Bach or re-imagining Purcell's famous lament infused with eerie electronics and given a modern twist.

The four-movement suite which gives the disc its name, Photography, represents a frank reappraisal of the English fondness for string orchestral writing and its commensurate pastoral overtones, yet here reinvigorates it with a rhythmic vivacity more akin to Tippett at his light-footed best. Wallen's rhythmic dexterity brings the string textures to bright, sparking new life, delivered on this recording with wonderful zest by the Continuum Ensemble under Philip Headlam.

Cellist Matthew Sharp is on fine form in the Cello Concerto, whose single movement explores a lyrical intensity matched with surging harmonies, whilst the last track, In Earth, casts Purcell's 'Dido's Lament' in a modern light with a desolate landscape of bass and percussion-tinged electronics the backdrop to Wallen's own singing.

The composer talks in the accompanying booklet about being on a voyage of discovery, and this disc shows her examining aspects of the history of British music, and finding ways to re-invent them as a means, perhaps, of defining her own musical identity in relation to them. Taking on these 'monuments of tradition,' as TS Eliot might have defined them, requires considerable courage, and Wallen shows a fearlessness in addressing them, demonstrating that she is equal to the task and unafraid to make them new.

Photography is available on pre-order from the NMC website here.

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