The orchestral song cycle Voices from the Sea, 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 upon a container ship a Sea Symphony, commissioned by The Marine Society.
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 display the particular pianism of Kathron Sturrock, who is adept at clarifying textures. As director of Fibonacci Sequence, many of whose regular musicians are featured here, she tends to be self effacing and rarely gives solos. 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 Ovid Metamorphoses.
Hawkins has a way with the double bass and here are some pieces which bassists hired to do the Trout Quintet might introduce as recital novelties. Gestures is likewise a valuable contribution to what must be a thin repertoire for two violas. Finally Quietus for string trio makes a satisfying envoi.
The presentation includes the texts of the sea poems. The recording is generally excellent and this collection will give great pleasure to afficionados of 20 C. British music.
Copyright © 2003, Peter Grahame Woolf