CD review: Errollyn Wallen’s Photography

First published in the Guardian on 24 March, 2016

“Music seemed to yank me towards it,” writes the Belize-born British composer Errollyn Wallen, and the unselfconscious plain-speak of her work chimes true with that statement. Her writing sounds instinctive. Moods are blatant, gestures are unambiguous, she pinches from baroque, jazz, film, romantic and minimalist idioms and wears those influences bright and proud on her sleeve. Some passages risk straight-up pastiche and the chugging rhythmic stuff wears thin when there isn’t enough else going on, but this album — the first devoted entirely to Wallen’s orchestral music — features vibrant performances from the ensemble she established to play her music, and overall it’s a fine portrait of a wide-ranging artist. The Cello Concerto opens with a bold and nuanced soliloquy from cellist Matthew Sharp and in the touching final piece, In Earth, Wallen herself sings Dido’s Lament. Her voice is breathy and intimate and immediate while echoey rumbles from bass guitarist Tim Harries smudge the edges of Purcell’s melody.