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Nash Ensemble - Mark-Anthony Turnage - Chamber Works

The Independent (UK) - 6 December 2005 - Rob Cowan

Even if I hadn't known that the opening work on Turnage: This Silence (ONYX4005)) was inspired by a Jon Silkin poem about grief I could easily have sussed the complexion of its narrative from just listening. That's the great thing about Turnage: he invites you straight in - you never feel the awkward chill of distance, even in the few instances where the octet "This Silence" turns complex or knotty.

First to sound is the horn. The strings follow on, before the mood intensifies and a sort jazz lament brings us down to street level. Just before the seven-minute mark, a heartbreaking descent for solo strings takes over - as if escape is no longer viable and grief needs to be confronted head on.

There's dancing, too, in this marvellous piece - weird fidgety dancing, more nervous than celebratory - while in "L'invitation au Voyage" (with soprano Sally Matthews) Turnage beckons us to a world of bliss much as Duparc had done many years earlier. Other works programmed - including the punchy "Slide Stride" for piano and string quartet - grab your attention like a novel you can't put down. It might seem strange to say this, but wherever you join Turnage's work, he spins the uncanny illusion that he's listening to you as intently as you are to him.

The Guardian - 16 December 2005 - Andrew Clements

There's a hint of his special vein of elegiac expressiveness in the collection of smaller-scale ensemble pieces brought together on the Nash Ensemble's beautifully played disc. Some of those - the quietly sensuous Baudelaire songs, sung with perfect focus and intensity by Sally Matthews, or the oboe-and-strings Cantilena - belong to the same period as the LPO's orchestral pieces, yet deal with a much more personal and expressive world.

The most striking of these works is the two-movement octet This Silence, composed in 1994; its edgy, acid-tinged lyricism and keening melodies are typical of Turnage at his best, and therefore unlike the music of any other composer working today.

Sunday Times (UK) 20.11.2005 - Stephen Pettitt

This tightly packed CD contains seven fine, characterful chamber pieces. They represent the essence of Turnage.

Music Web International- January 2006 Hubert Culot

One of the most distinctive voices of present day British music, Mark-Anthony Turnage mainly made his mark - and still does - with his many substantial pieces for orchestra and ensemble as well as his operas. His far from negligible chamber music output should not be overlooked as some earlier discs (NMC D 024 M and Black Box BBM 1065, the latter reviewed here some time ago) amply demonstrate. The present release further confirms that Turnage’s chamber music, while clearly from the same pen as, say, Three Screaming Popes, Dispelling the Fears or Silent Cities sheds different light on his music and reveals a private, intimate music-making of great refinement and restraint. Often it displays warm lyricism, although pieces like A Quiet Life for strings - actually the third panel of the orchestral trilogy Studies and Elegies - and Silent Cities had already generously displayed Turnage’s lyrical gift.

True Life Stories for piano, composed between 1995 and 1999, consist of short sketches related to family members and friends. So, Elegy for Andy (a reworking of some material from the sixth movement of Blood on the Floor, Junior Addict in memory of his brother), William’s Pavane and Edward’s Refrain (dedicated to his two sons), Song for Sally (i.e. his then publisher Sally Groves) and Tune for Toru (originally a short tribute to Toru Takemitsu). None of these short, expressive pieces outstays its welcome, neither do the Two Vocalises for cello and piano, a shorter, simpler sequel to the somewhat earlier Sleep On.

In Slide Stride for piano quintet, Turnage wrote some more virtuosic stuff for piano to compensate , as it were, for the often deceptive simplicity of the True Life Stories. As in so many other pieces of his, Turnage pays tribute to Jazz and Blues without ever falling into parody or blunt imitation. It is not surprising that this piece is dedicated to Richard Rodney Bennett.

The somewhat earlier This Silence for small ensemble (clarinet, oboe, horn and string quintet) is in two clearly delineated movements Dance and Dirge. It contains some of his finest music.

Eulogy for viola and ensemble is a beautiful miniature viola concerto, in which the subtle scoring for small ensemble allows the viola to sing in total freedom in its most expressive register without being obscured by the accompaniment. As far as I am concerned, this is the finest work in this selection and a real minor masterpiece.

The Cantilena for oboe quintet is another little gem, a sort of song without words of perfect proportions. It develops almost effortlessly with remarkable inner logic, although as in all the other works here straightforward, unsentimental expression is paramount.

The most recent work here is Two Baudelaire Songs for soprano and seven players. This fully demonstrates Turnage’s lyrical gifts and the scoring beautifully responds to Baudelaire’s verbal imagery.

These performances by the Nash Ensemble, who are among Turnage’s staunchest champions (both the NMC and the Black Box discs feature the Nash Ensemble), cannot be bettered. All the soloists perform beautifully with conviction and commitment. Everyone here plays the music for all it is worth and is in tune with the intimate, personal music-making of Turnage’s chamber music. Without this facet our assessment of the composer’s achievement would be incomplete. Some have described Turnage’s music as brash (which it can be) or vulgar (which, to my mind, it never is). His chamber music is all subtlety and refinement. All in all, a splendid and highly rewarding release.


Gramophone Magazine January 2006 - David Gutman

Turnage ranges far and wide while the Nash provide definitive performances

This is the third disc from the Nash Ensemble devoted to the music of Mark-Anthony Turnage and it is, in a sense, the most representative. The first presented mainly early works in his tough urban vein (NMC, 9/95); the second implied membership of some latter-day cowpat school (Black Box, 8/01). The latest collection gives more indication of his range.
My favourites come from opposite tendencies. Slide Stride (2002) is a noisily affirmative piano quintet based on James P Johnson’s style of jazz piano and dedicated to Richard Rodney Bennett, whereas True Life Stories, unveiled as a group by Leif Ove Andsnes in 2000, are cool piano miniatures. As is usual with Turnage these days, not all the core material is new and the last in the sequence, the haunting tribute to Toru Takemitsu, cheekily reprises the final item on that Black Box anthology. Ian Brown plays it with more restraint and less pedal this time around – or it could be simply that the sound is not as resonant.

It seems a churlish sort of response but I couldn’t help wondering why certain British composers are so well represented on CD when others have yet to make any sort of impression. While Turnage demonstrates a continuing ability to straddle disparate musical worlds, his startling fluency begins to look as much a problem as an asset. In Two Baudelaire Songs (2004) he sets poems already transmogrified by Debussy and Henri Duparc. Only here L’invitation au voyage is deconstructed rather than indulged, a peculiarly dissonant close undercutting the ‘Luxe, calme et volupté’ of the text. As miked, the soloist Sally Matthews is very much one of the band. Lawrence Power’s viola seems rather forwardly placed in the autumnal Eulogy (2003), an immediately convincing composition that doesn’t strive for novelty.

Turnage’s world has dark, claustrophobic qualities, underlined here by the immediate, focused recording masterminded by Chris Craker. Barry Witherden’s copious notes are helpful even if they enthuse a bit too much for me. I’m not sure I would want to digest the entire concert at one sitting though this generous selection of definitive performances is well worth sampling.