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October 26, 2019
 

Nature as The Ultimate Matchmaker

 

 

By Robert Hugill

THE NORTH WIND WAS A WOMAN
Chamber Works by David Bruce
Avi Avital, Dover Quartet, Nora Fischer, The North Wind Ensemble, Camerata Pacifica
Signum

I first came across the music of David Bruce when his opera The Firework-Maker’s Daughter was performed at Covent Garden in 2013 [see my review]. And his work Gumboots, for clarinet, popped up on a disc from Julian Bliss and the Carducci Quartet [see my review]. On this new disc from Signum Classics we hear two chamber works and a song-cycle for soprano and ensemble. Central to the disc are the talents of mandolin player Avi Avital, he and the Dover Quartet perform Bruce’s Cymbeline, whilst Avital is part of The North Wind Ensemble, which accompanies soprano Nora Fischer in the song cycle The North Wind was a Woman, which sets poems by Bruce himself and Alasdair Middleton. The final work on the disc is the instrumental suite The Consolation of Rain performed by the Camerata Pacifica.

Cymbeline was written specially for Avi Avital, and the title refers to an old Celtic word meaning Lord of the Sun, rather than referencing Shakespeare’s play. It is in three movements, representing Sunrise, Noon and Sunset, the outer movements more contemplative whilst the central one is livelier. Essential to the work is the fascinating sound combination of mandolin and strings Bruce employs to create a wide variety of textures. All three movements have a distinctive, very idiomatic character, but I kept hearing both Oriental influences and American folk (as in Appalachian music), yet with popular rhythms too, all combined into something rather appealing.

‘Cymbeline: I. Sunrise, Avi Avital (mandolin), David Bruce, Dover Quartet, from The North Wind Was a Woman

‘Cymbeline: II: Noon. Avi Avital (mandolin), David Bruce, Dover Quartet, from The North Wind Was a Woman

Alasdair Middleton wrote the libretto to Bruce’s opera A Bird in Your Ear, and it was Bruce who approached him with the idea of a sequence of songs with the elements singing (Bruce had read a libretto written for a fellow composer that had included the Sea singing). So Middleton produced a trio of poems (the middle songs of the sequence) that have the “Wind” in unrequited love, the melancholy and mysterious “Night” and a very crazed “Moon.” To these Bruce added the first, the bleak “Snow” seeing itself as frozen tears, and a “Mountain” contemplating its only friendship.

The cycle uses mandolin (Avi Avital), harp (Bridget Kibbey), string quartet (Dover Quartet), flute (Tara Helen O’Connor), clarinets (Romie de Guise-Langlois & Moran Katz), percussion (Britton Matthews) and double bass (Kris Saebo). Again we notice Bruce’s imaginative use of his instruments to create striking textures to complement Nora Fischer’s voice. The Appalachian and Oriental elements seem to occur here too, but we start to recognize Bruce’s distinctive voice. Fischer’s voice is used to its utmost, with some spectacular high passages, and a remarkable performance as the crazed moon who wants to kill, which takes Fischer to her limits. Her diction not being ideal, the listener does have to resort to the libretto at times.

The North Wind Was a Woman: I. The Snow is Completely Without Hope. Nora Fischer, David Bruce, The North Wind Ensemble, Dover Quartet, from The North Wind Was a Woman

‘The Consolation of Rain’: I. Camerata Pacifica, David Bruce, from The North Wind Was a Woman

The final work on the disc, The Consolation of Rain, was written for Camerata Pacifica (Nicholas Daniel, oboe; Ani Aznavoorian, cello; Bridget Kibbey, harp; Svet Stoyanov, percussion). Its five movements are inspired by the idea that one can reconnect with someone you love by looking at nature, so here we have a series of evocations of rain. The distinctive combination of instruments makes for fascinating listening, as Bruce weaves some lovely sounds together writing for this unusual combination in an imaginative way. That we again have a plucked instrument—a harp—at the center of the piece brings a sort of commonality to the disc’s three works.

The disc’s subtitle, Chamber Works by David Bruce, does not do it justice, and the three pieces on this disc are written with great flair and imagination. Whilst Bruce does write lyrically (he describes The Consolation of Rain as a series of songs without words), his music is complex and richly textured and certainly repays repeated listening.

Published at Planet Hugill, 24 October, 2019, published here with permission. Robert Hugill is a singer, composer, journalist, lover of opera and all things Handel.To receive Robert’s lively monthly This month on Planet Hugill e-newsletter, sign up for his Mailing List. (Robert Hugill photo by Robert Piwko)