• Philip May

Off the Digital Shelf: June 2016

I buy a lot of CDs. Below are three recent purchases, downloaded to my iPod, that are to my mind worth a second listen:

Matt Dunkley, Cycle 1 from Six Cycles, Torsten Scholz (Solo Violin), Philip Maguerre (Solo Piano), Babelsberg Film Orchestra. Released 2016.

Matt Dunkley’s film and TV credits as orchestrator, arranger and conductor are lengthy and impressive. By comparison, he has undertaken comparatively less as a composer – there is quite literally only a handful of projects for which he is credited as such – leaving it quite intriguing that he should release an album of his own cine-minimalist compositions.

Six Cycles is deliberately abstract. Whilst each composition is inspired, as Dunkley writes, by ‘disparate sources, whether it [be] a piece of poetry, a painting or the emotion of personal loss’, these associations are not revealed, and the compositions are distinguished simply by different numbers. He goes on to write that ‘I want the listener to discover their own world within my music, hence the wilfully enigmatic titles.’

Cycle 2 is available to listen to on Sound Cloud,[1] perhaps because it is the most arresting. I’m not sure that it represents Dunkley’s best foot, however, just his most glittering shoe: it’s more derivative than the other tracks and at times one can hear the cogs turning, particularly during the violin solo. Personally-speaking, Cycle 1 has a more individual voice and is a good introduction to the album: it is sensual, a kaleidoscopic evocation of light and shade, and a gentle balance of vertical and horizontal movement. Cycle 6 also forms a mournful riposte to this star-lit album opener.

William Lawes, The Catts as Other Creatures Doe from William Lawes: Dialogues, Psalmes & Elegies, Anthony Rooley & The Consort of Musicke. Released 2006 (recorded in 1978).

In the unofficial Cat Composition Competition™, William Lawes beats Rossini’s infamous Duetto Buffo by approximately 200 years. A trio that also features human meows (or ‘Mowe’, according to the 17th-century spelling), this brief song opens with the immortal line: ‘The Catts as other creatures doe, Use to swagger, and make love too;’. In the world of songs about cats, it’s certainly a good’n.

Incidentally, if feline compositions pique your interest, Lux Musica have your needs met: Classical Cats – Five Centuries of Music Celebrating the Feline Eternal.

Heino Eller, Œuvres Pour Piano (Intégrale Vol. 2). Sten Lassmann. Released 2012.

This £3 CD became my introduction to Heino Eller. An Estonian composer, his music is better known within his own country, but is still not that well-known at that. His most familiar works are the symphonic poem Koit (‘Dawn’) and Kodumaine Viis (‘Homeland Tune’) for string orchestra, but his writing for the piano forms the largest part of his output, totalling almost two hundred works. At the date of writing Sten Lassmann (himself Estonian) has recorded five CDs of Eller’s piano music since 2011, including three of composer’s Sonatas, selections of Preludes, an Estonian Suite, Themes and Variations, Studies, Estonian-based compositions, and many individual piano works and miniatures. Lassmann envisages a further two CDs to complete his project.

Volume 2 of Eller’s music is thoroughly charming, particularly the later music from the 1940s and 50s. His voice is distinctive and unique, with a certain Ravel-like clarity, succinctness and harmonic imbuement at times, particularly in the Sonatina and Eight Pieces. On the other hands, the Estonian Dance from 1938 has a brittleness of character one could relate to certain movements of Prokofiev. Overall, a very worthwhile discovery.

[First published Jun 24th 2016]


[1] Clint Mansell’s Remix of Cycle 5 is also available:

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