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Elisabeth Lutyens: Chamber and choral works

EXAUDI/James Weeks, director & Endymion

NMC D124 [£12.99]

A fitting tribute to a composer whose music deserves to be heard far more often.

Performances by Exaudi in the various choral pieces are simply breathtaking, rising to the many challenges presented by the music and meeting them effortlessly. My favourite track is the haunting Verses of Love (1970), with beautiful textures and word-setting, and a luminous vocal sliding that is executed perfectly on this CD. The Magnificat and Nunc Dimiittis (1965) are also wonderful settings, with a particularly satisfying final cadence that had a severe emotional effect on me at first hearing. The other choral works on the disc are the Motet (Excerpta Tractati Logico-Philosophici) Op.27 (1953), and The Country of the Stars (1963). My opening call for more performances is perhaps not realistic given the obvious difficulties of the repertoire, requiring laser-guided pitching ability and complete control of the voice.

Another stunning performance is given by Melinda Maxwell in the Présages for solo oboe, Op.53 (1963) . This piece is challenging, yet the difficulties are never felt, such is Maxwell's mastery of them; the nine movements flow by in an interpretation that seems to make total sense. A twelve-tone composition, it is of significant interest to those who want to learn how to handle a row deftly; (incidentally, so is the Sonata for Solo Violin   by John Ogdon.)

Having tried the disc on several hi-fis, I feel that the Fantasie Trio Op.55 (1963), well-played by members of Endymion, does not have as clear a production as the rest of the disc, and the a-natural in the piano 17 seconds into the first movement sounds flat to my ears, which is a shame. The piece is perhaps harder to follow than others on the disc, with the music in the outer movements constantly stopping and starting with a proliferation of sudden dynamic changes. (The second movement is dominated by the winds, with long understated lines that produce an elegiac quality.)

The disc also includes the Wind Trio for flute, clarinet and bassoon, Op.52 (1963), and the String Trio, Op.57 (1964). Both works revolve around gesture and its development, the String Trio in particular bringing to mind Webern, especially in the many short fragments that end with a crescendo into silence. Both trios are well performed, the music given the right amount of dramatic space for the gestures to have their effect.

Aleksander Szram