CD review: Elena Langer’s Landscape with Three People

First published in the Guardian on 29 January, 2016

Elena Langer: Landscape with Three People
Dennis/Towers/Daniel (Harmonia Mundi)

Elena Langer’s new opera Figaro Gets a Divorce premieres at Welsh National Opera in March; meanwhile here’s a chance to get to know the Muscovite’s deft vocal writing up-close. Landscape with Three People is a song cycle that sets Lee Harwood poems — and to some extent narrates his love life — for soprano Anna Dennis, countertenor William Towers and small ensemble led by oboist Nicholas Daniels. It’s nimble and light, sensual without forcing the point, folksy but not quite fey, whimsical in the deconstructed manner of Berio or Nono. The two voices lilt together in First Love Scene, sultry and restrained while the oboe flits about saying what the signers won’t. There’s a rapturous duet for oboe and countertenor in His Return; I Hear You is all sighs and quickened breaths. The performance is excellent — especially from Dennis, whose voice is grainy, unswerving and laced with metal. The album also contains older Langer songs including the haunting Russian lament Tucha and a feverish 17-minute monologue called Ariadne.