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John Hawkins
Voices from the Sea
and other pieces

Martyn Hill – Tenor
Divertimenti String Orchestra, Antony Pay – Conductor
Yuko Inouë, Duncan McTier, Christopher O’Neal,
Siân Philipps, Gemma Rosefield, Nancy Ruffer,
Paul Silverthorne, Kathron Sturrock

Meridian CDE 84496 [70 mins]

Voices from the Sea (Divertimenti string orchestra, with Martyn Hill (tenor),
conducted by Antony Pay)
Variations Kathron Sturrock — piano
Waiting: Tango Paul Silverthorne — viola: Duncan McTier — double bass
Brief Encounters Nancy Ruffer – flute: Paul Silverthorne – viola
Worlds Apart Duncan McTier — double bass: Kathron Sturrock — piano
Shadows Yuko Inouë – viola: Duncan McTier – double bass: Kathron Sturrock – piano
Disturbed Nights Christopher O'Neal — oboe
Gestures Yuko Inouë and Paul Silverthorne – viola
Quietus Siân Philips – violin: Paul Silverthorne – viola: Gemma Rosefield – 'cello

This orchestral song cycle, first heard & recorded in 1985, gives a unique CD compilation its title. The texts, written by merchant seamen for a poetry competition, are strikingly direct, and are telling in Martyn Hill's sympathetic rendering and admirably clear articulation. John Hawkins (b. 1949) had previously composed a Sea Symphony, commissioned by The Marine Society, writing it on board a container ship!

The music of Voices from the Sea is by a composer who knows his Britten, and I was reminded of Howard Ferguson too. So nothing 'cutting edge' here, but finely crafted music in an early 20 C British idiom with which he is comfortable; but no cause to disparage it on that account. Excellently crafted (his teachers included Elizabeth Lutyens and Malcolm Williamson), Hawkins' word setting is superb and he was clearly fired by these non-professional verses penned by practical men who knew what they were writing about.

Hawkins' eight Variations are an excellent vehicle for displaying the particular pianism of Kathron Sturrock, director of Fibonacci Sequence, many of whose regular musicians are featured here. She is adept at clarifying textures and I have a particuclarly fond memory of reviewing her playing the late Schubert A minor sonata; in her Fibonacci Sequence concerts she tends to be self effacing and rarely gives solos.

Hawkins has a way with the double bass and Worlds Apart and Shadows are useful pieces which might well be featured for contrast in those regular recitals for which bassists are hired to do the Trout Quintet. The trio with viola and piano is a recommendable item. Likewise, Disturbed Nights, the lullaby with variations for solo oboe is well worth programming as a change from the Britten Metamorphoses after Ovid. Gestures too is a valuable contribution to what must be a thin repertoire for two violas. Finally Quietus for string trio makes a satisfying envoi, marred only by a last pizzicato note from cello which is not quite full enough in tone to end the whole recital and CD.

The presentation is fairly good, with texts of the sea poems provided; too much redundant biographical detail about the performers - the dates of most of the pieces remain a secret. The recording is generally excellent and this collection of music by a composer who had escaped me until now has given great pleasure, as it will to afficionados of 20 C. British music.

© Peter Grahame Woolf