HOWARD SKEMPTON (b.1947): The Rime of the Ancient Mariner for Baritone and Orchestra, Only the Sound Remains for Viola and Orchestra.
Catalogue Number: 05S062
Description: Although the composer is frequently thought of as a miniaturist, Skempton's small works can form convincing large-scale cycles, and there are a number of pieces of substantial span of which two are presented here. These larger works tend to sound like assemblages of shorter sections, tied together into a larger narrative, and this is appropriate to The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, as the story progresses surely in one long arc, made up of small episodes which change character dramatically, and the music mirrors this. Skempton's harmonic language remains consistent; tonal, based on a nine-note scale which ambiguously suggests modal inflections to both major and minor scales, with an emphasis on clear harmonic movement, consonance and apparent simplicity. The aim of the work is plainly to present Coleridge's poem as a largely unadorned dramatised sung narration, almost like a bardic ballad - an impression heightened by the tinge of folk-like harmony suggested by the ambiguous tonality; and this is amply justified as the old opium eater's nightmare is quite vivid enough without needing an histrionic, overblown orchestral setting. The chamber-music embellishments are very subtle, just underlining key phrases or shifts of mood with with delicate timbral allusions to color, image or emotion. Only the Sound Remains is effectively a half-hour passacaglia, based on a 45-note theme which is heard throughout. Here the component sections are the shifts in timbre and texture, major and minor chord sequences (some of these have a feeling of memories of Wagner, which relates the work back to Skempton's more monolithic Lento of 1990). The piece is mesmerizing, meandering and flowing, in the composer's customary, very consonant yet ambiguous harmonic language. Texts included. Roderick Williams (baritone), Christopher Yates (viola), Birmingham Contemporary Music Group; Martyn Brabbins.