A New Release from Avie:
Mythologies from Anna Clyne
On October 16th, 2020 AVIE Records released Mythologies, a feature on the composer Anna Clyne. This album includes five orchestral compositions, composed over a decade, recorded live by the BBC Concert Orchestra and led by four various conductors.
Anna Clyne is a British composer and artistic collaborator who has had a career that has brought her music before premiere ensembles and to audiences across the globe. Previously, from 2010-2015, she served as the Composer-in-residence for the Chicago Symphony under Riccardo Muti and she now serves as the Associate Composer with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra.
Before I was asked to write this review, I was not intimately familiar with Clyne’s music. I was excited to hear new music with fresh ears and I was not disappointed. First off, I was happy to see that the album artwork actually featured art. Recently it seems as if every album has a company logo bordering a stiff looking performer staring noncommittally off in the distance. The Mythologies album artwork features fairy-tale like drawings of allusions to the various works included on the album. Josh Dorman, the artist responsible, shows a seamstress sewing on craggy rocks while a ferry traverses the seas, among other images.
The first track featured is the premiere recording of Masquerade, a five-minute orchestral firework. Composed in 2013, this piece was commissioned by BBC Radio 3 for the Last Night of the Proms. The piece, bursting with energy, reflects its title well. The piece makes it easy to imagine walking through the streets of a Masquerade ball seeing Jesters juggling, acrobats flying, and many people walking by in colored masks. The BBC Symphony Orchestra delivers and aural whirlwind. Occasionally sweet or rollicking vignettes poke through the flurry of vigorous string scales like glimpsing the eye of a cyclone.
The next track is This Midnight Hour, another storm, but instead of being exhilarating, this storm is dark and menacing. This work was commissioned by the Orchestra national d’Île-de-France and the Seattle Symphony in 2015. Clyne drew inspiration for this work from two poetic sources. The first poem, by Juan Ramón Jiménez (translated by Robert Bly) sets the opening mood:
a naked woman
running mad through the pure night!
Heavy strings set up a dark ostinato-like rhythm while woodwind flurries spin above. The woman’s mad screams erupt in the night as brass punctuations. A shrieking piccolo solo and haunting pizzicato show this demented cavalcade. The second poetic inspiration is Harmonie du soir, by Charles Baudelaire. This poem is an elicitation of the night and is Clyne depicts the “Melancholy waltz and languid vertigo!” with an oboe waltz starting halfway through the piece. The other woodwinds join into this lilting waltz, but it is overcome by the shrieking woman again. The piece gradually decrescendos into a hint of the dawn, but a blast from the bass drum reminds us that night will come again. This was easily my favorite piece on the album.
The Seamstress serves as the centerpiece of this CD, and as previously mentioned, features prominently on the album artwork. It was commissioned and written in 2014, while she was Composer-in-Residence at the Chicago Symphony. It features Jennifer Koh as the dazzling violin soloist for the piece. Although listed underneath the ‘Concerto’ heading on Clyne’s website, this is more of an orchestral piece that has a solo violin foreground. The piece opens with Koh playing a simple, sad, folksy melody. Five minutes into the piece we hear stereophonic gasping inhales of Irene Buckley who serves as a narrator who later interjects snippets of William Butler Yeats’ poem A Coat. This piece serves as the slower contrast to the first two, although it is not a sweet serenade, the work is still heavy and deeply troubled. It is a real testament to Clyne’s talent for orchestration. Clyne summarized the piece the best herself by saying: “The Seamstress is an imaginary one-act ballet. Alone on the stage, the seamstress is seated, unraveling threads from an antique cloth laid gently over her lap. Lost in her thoughts, her mind begins to meander and her imagination spirals into a series of five tales that range from love to despair, and that combine memory with fantasy.”
Next on the album, Night Ferry, immediately propels us back into the energetic sound world of Masquerade and This Midnight Hour. Written in 2012 for the Chicago Symphony this piece was my least favorite of the album. It was not bad by any means, but I felt as if the piece lost its way throughout the twenty-minute work. Waves of strings crash over a frequent and prominent rhythmic syncopation produced by muted trumpets and bass drums. This piece is again explosive and terrifying, the BBC Concert Orchestra does an immaculate job of bringing the score to life. Also inspired by poetry, this piece illustrates Seamus Heaney’s Elegy for Robert Lowell:
You were our Night Ferry
thudding in a big sea
the whole craft ringing
with an armourer’s music
the course set wilfully across
the ungovernable and dangerous.
Last on the album is “<<rewind<<” and reminded me of a darker Short Ride on a Fast Machine by John Adams. It has a similar energy but moves between contrasting sections with more ease. Quick pulsing rhythms shine through a churning and moaning ambiguous low string and trombone opening. One spot of slight respite from the intensity gives a solo violin the chance to give a small melody over the low aching ensemble that eventually overtakes the violin. Dissonances and rhythmic strength become quite extreme towards the end. Composed in 2005 this is the oldest work included on this album. As noted in the album liner notes by Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim Clyne “was inspired by the image of a video tape being scrolled backwards, with glitchy spots where it skips, freezes or warps.”
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this album. I thought it was a great introduction to Anna Clyne and her music with the five fantastic pieces that were chosen. I look forward to seeking out more music from her.