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Britten Sinfonia's Songs of the Sky compilation

Steve Martland Tiger Dancing
Huw Watkins Dream
Tarik O'Regan Raï
Jason Yarde Who Knows the Beauty
John Tavener Songs of the Sky

Britten Sinfonia CD 001 (distributed by Signum Classics)

This is an interesting compilation disc to launch another orchestra's Own Label, but not with one of its orchestral concerts. The works are commissioned by Britten Sinfonia and I presume that all the musicians are members of the orchestra or have played with them; that is not clear in the publicity material?

The composers are purposely various - representing the "tumultuous, powerful and ground-breaking" developments of music at the turn of the century, so many listeners won't like everything. I am rather allergic to "powerfully rhythmic, muscular and physical" minimalism, as exemplified by Martland's unrelenting Tyger. I should be more likely to have listened to it again if it were half its quarter hour duration. Watkins' Dream is far more engaging, the hypnotic calm of its reverie disturbed by dramatic intrusions, and all in less than seven minutes. Yes, that's one to hear again and live in concerts.

O'Regan's Raï taps Arab dance music influences attractively. Yarde's take on the elusive beauty takes us into jazz and other musical influences; fresh and enjoyable.

The biggest surprise is Tavener (I prefer his near-namesake with another "r"). I am allergic to his brand of large scale holy minimalism. But this is the piece of his I have enjoyed more than any since The Whale. It is gripping in its pared down concentrated intensity in tackling so daunting a theme as the 2004 tsunami in a set of variations culminating in a hymn to the Goddess of Death... Charles Daniels and Nicholas Daniel are supported by Julius Drake in perfect balance, and other tracks on the disc include notable players, such as Jason Yarde (saxophone) and Joanna MacGregor, to name just two of an illustrious roll-call.

Britten Sinfonia's website promises a Hindemith disc at the end of this month, but I understand it has been delayed till June. Meanwhile, this is well worth exploring.

Peter Grahame Woolf