There are three projects on NMC to discover this month. The first is a continuation of their Sinfonietta Shorts venture, which debuted in 2008 as a celebration of the ensemble’s 40th birthday. The project has returned with five new bite-sized recordings of contemporary music: Axeman by Anna Meredith, es by Dai Fujikura, Little Duo by Jonathan Harvey, Duet 3 by Harrison Birtwistle and Parable by Mark Bowden. There is also a series of videos with players performers and, in the case of Jonathan Harvey, whose work was one of his last, an interview with Andrew Burke, the chief executive of the London Sinfonietta.
The Digital Discoveries project draws on the vast library of twentieth century and contemporary music held at the British Music Collection. The aim is to make hard to find music more widely available, both unfamiliar works by big name composers and those by less well-known figures that deserve to be rediscovered. Those represented include (out of 28 in total): Richard Ayres, Joe Cutler, Sam Hayden, Graham Fitkin, Tansy Davies, Luke Stoneham, Laurence Crane, Joseph Phibbs, Paul Whitty, Michael Zev Gordon, Geoff Hannan, Richard Baker, Katharine Norman, Andrew Toovey and Gabriel Jackson. The complete set is available for £35 or individual volumes may be purchased for £5.99 (mp3) and £6.99 (FLAC).
Finally, NMC mark the end of Britten’s centenary year in terrific fashion: with a double-disc set of unrecorded and largely forgotten music by the composer. The focus is on works written by Britten in America and on his association with Auden and Isherwood. Whilst this is largely the music of a jobbing composer rather than the towering figure that Britten later became, there is no doubting its effervescent quality. There is knowing pastiche everywhere – blues, cabaret songs, Hollywood schmaltz, Bach chorales – a reminder of the many influences that Britten absorbed in forging his mature style. Some of the works also serve as moving mementos of troubled times, especially, for example, An American in England, six programmes about wartime conditions in England. Britten probably viewed some of the music on these disks as, in some respects, disposable. However, even such obvious pastiches as the songs Roman Wall Blues and Where Do We Go from Here? stay with you long after listening. We should be grateful indeed to NMC for unearthing them after all these years.
Into the Ravine on Signum Records contains works written for the Carducci Quartet and premièred at the Presteigne Festival: Michael Berkeley’s Oboe Quintet, Into the Ravine; John McCabe’s String Quartet No. 7, Summer Eves and Adrian Williams’ String Quartet No. 4. Naxos marks the death of John Tavener with a new recording of Pratirūpa in its version for piano and string orchestra, performed by Ralph van Raat with the Netherlands Radio Chamber Philharmonic. There are also new recordings of Seven Beauties Ballet Suite and The Path of Thunder by Shostakovich’s pupil Kara Karayev; Symphony Elixir and Songs of Love and Solitude by Keith Burstein; Sinfonia en Negro, Double Concerto and Columbus by Leonardo Balada and Piano Quintet Mei, Lan, Zhu, Ju and other works by Gao Ping.