Monthly Archives: March 2017

CD review: Buxton Orr songs

First published in the Guardian on 2 March, 2017

Buxton Orr: Songs
Spence/Burnside/Edinburgh Quartet (Delphian)

The influence of Buxton Orr, born in Glasgow in 1924, lives on mainly via generations of students — he taught composition theory by making his pupils improvise and founded the Guildhall New Music Ensemble in 1975. But what of his own music? He was a diligent, tuneful, unobtrusively original composer. He’s worth hearing. Nicky Spence is the first singer to record a full disc of his songs and it’s a revelation. Imagine a gentler, quirkier Britten with dabblings in 12-tone technique and old Scots poems set to generous vocal lines and off-piste instrumentation (duo for tenor and double bass?). It helps that these performances are so good. Pianist Iain Burnside and his colleagues bring out all the care and wit in the instrumental writing: swaggering clarinet lines (Jordan Black) and limpid strings (members of the Edinburgh Quartet) in the song cycle Canzona; boisterous conviction from bassist Nikita Naumov in the caustic Ten Types of Hospital Visitor. Spence himself sounds terrific throughout — nimble, direct, deftly playful and expressive with the text.

CD review: Grazyna Bacewicz chamber music

First published in the Guardian on 2 March, 2017

Bacewicz: chamber music
Diana Ambache etc (Ambache)

Polish composer/violinit Grazyna Bacewicz summed up her music as “aggressive and at the same time lyrical.” She was right — try the 1949 Quartet for Four Violins as proof, with its fearless dashes from bruising dance to sparse elegy and back again. The piece is tactile and gritty; it was meant for teaching but never in a dry way. A handful of decent recordings in recent years have bolstered an interest in Bacewicz’s feisty music and this disc led by pianist Diana Ambache fills in more chamber music gaps. There’s the eerie Trio for Oboe, Harp and Percussion and the brilliantly dense, scurrying Quartet for Four Cellos. All the other works in the programme (folk dances, a theme and variations) show evidence of what a spirited violinist Bacewicz was herself. The sound of the recording has a homemade grain to it but the playing is top-notch, with violin duties shared out between David Juritz, Victoria Sayles, Richard Milone and Charlotte Scott and Diana Ambache unshakable at the piano.

Interview: Nicolas Zekulin

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First published in The Herald on 1 March, 2017

When Nicolas Zekulin was a music undergraduate at the University of Calgary, he co-hosted a regular 6am jazz programme on the local student radio station. The show was called Cereal Focus, and as well as playing “the most out-there” records he could lay his hands on — hour-long bootleg Coltrane solos for drivetime, anyone? — Zekulin would invent mock-serious critiques of breakfast cereals and read them out in elaborate detail. More than 20 years later, he still gets stopped on the street when he’s visiting his parents back in Calgary and asked what he had for breakfast that morning. (His default choice nowadays, he revealed to The Herald, is Stoats porridge oats served a la Canadiana with nuts and maple syrup. No salt.)

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