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.