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Simon Holt Chamber orchestral music

Feet of Clay
Boots of Lead

Birmingham Contemporary Music Group/ Martyn Brabbins & Sir Simon Rattle conductors
Rolf Hind, piano; Rinat Shaham, mezzo

NMC D094 [TT: 67 mins]

These Birmingham recordings (2002-2004) of pieces for up to 14 musicians from 1983-2002 give a good 'portrait' of Simon Holt (b.1958) who now, in his late '40s, is well established as a leading composer of his generation. His music, a great deal of it for chamber orchestral ensembles, particularly London Sinfonietta and Birmingham Contemporary Group, has a strong dramatic, often literary, connection and deals in powerful emotions translated into instrumental language, often triggered by Spanish literature.

Kites takes its imagery from the spectacle of Japanese kites 'moving at the mercy of the wind' in an increasingly heated 'kite fight'. Lilith was 'Adam's first wife' and is depicted as a serpent who becomes 'an apparition of the night'. with exotic instrumentation and strumming inside the piano. eco-pavan subjects the solo piano to distorted reflections from a 'tenebrous, exotic line-up' which creates 'a musical doppelgänger for the piano' (Tom Service). Feet of Clay (see cover illustration) is a disconcerting cello solo which begine bravely, but its confidence is progressively sapped to a conclusion in the depths. Boots of Lead is a dark setting of a Dickinson poem, better known through Copland's setting, emphasising'unfamiliar regions of instrumental timbre'.

Excellent live and studio recordings; biographies of chief personnel and complete listings of musicians - appropriate since everyone is a soloist. Other Holt compositions for chamber ensembles are on NMC 0008.

© Peter Grahame Woolf