METIER is devoted not only to independent-minded British composers but performers too. Here the impressive soprano Alison Smart, of the BBC Singers, makes her recorded debut as a recitalist, accompanied by Katharine Durran (whose complete Bach Toccatas is available on MSV CD2001). They offer an interesting selection of songs, often with a folkish flavour. James MacMillan's three Soutar settings have a timeless remote lyricism. Judith Weir's poignant song-cycle Scotch Minstrelsy is witty and spare, though not as spare as Gabriel Jackson's Liadan Laments, a terse but passionate etting of an Irish elegy. Robin Holloway's Grave's cycle, Wherever We May Be, is typically fetching; George Nicholson's Peripheral Visions deliberately dessicated and droll. The Traherne prose and verse settings of the late Elizabeth Maconchy's Sun, Moon and Stars are powerful. Her daughter, Nicola LeFanu's But Stars Remaining provides a solo vehicle for Smart, and Durran gives two little Orcadian solos by Maxwell Davies.
Maconchy's Sun Moon and Stars crops up in a recital by Alison Smart, a member of the BBC Singers and a soloist in the première of Giles Swayne's Havoc at this year's Proms. Hers is a clear voice, pure in tone but with a tendency to the shrill in the highest reaches, as in the Maconchy songs, or in the first of Robin Holloway's Robert Graves settings (1980-1). Set next to Chadwell's, as in Sun, Moon and Stars, Smart can sound rather clinical, but elsewhere in her varied programme of British song since 1970 she shows that she has a fine range of expressiveness. She is heard at her best in Judith Weir's colourful and characterful Scotch Minstrelsy (1986), Gabriel Jackson's Liadan Laments (1988) and - unaccompanied - in Lefanu's magisterial cantata But Stars Remaining (1970), one of her finest and most closely argued works. She is ably supported by Katharine Durran, who does her own solo turn - the two solos from Maxwell Davies's Yellow Cake Review (1980) - very nicely. Metier's sound is admirably clear.
MUSIC AND VISION:
A mixed bag of British songs since 1970 sounds a pleasing prospect. Experience with this selection passes the time fruitfully. Alison Smart accommodates the mixture of styles pleasingly and with enough polish to give the best tracks their due. Without this sort of exercise few of us would be able to stand back and consider the progress of songwriting either nationally or internationally. As an art, songwriting since the age of lieder has revealed the mountain peaks that are few, whilst we find the commonplace all too easily and almost anywhere. That which lies between is always interesting, and the choice here is discriminatory without fussiness: MacMillan, Weir, Maconchy - and her daughter LeFanu - Maxwell Davies, Holloway, Nicholson, and Gabriel Jackson.... ...CDs like this do not gain massive publicity or renown, yet they do a great service to both singer and song - and therefore music as an art. This CD could well grace many private record collections and brings together 25 imaginative songs.