Legends and Light, Vol. 2
Royal Scottish National Orchestra/David Watkins;
Lorne MacDougall, Bagpipes; Ryan Murphy, Uilleann Pipes;
Brno Philharmonic Orchestra/Pavel Snajdr
Navona Records 6399
Total Time: 75:08
Legends and Light is a second volume of new orchestral music in a series whose first volume appeared in 2018. Navona has upped the game a bit with a move to using the Royal Scottish National Orchestra from the earlier more regional European orchestras. Performances by that orchestra are featured in the opening four works on this release with the equally adept Brno Philharmonic rounding things off with three final pieces. The recordings come from March and April of last year. The album opens with a decidedly Celtic feel and then moves us into more ethereal realms.
Helen Mackinnon’s The Rinns of Islay takes us on an episodic journey across five short snapshots of Islay. Opening with a sense of mystery as the sun rises, the piece than moves into a rain shower, a bit of a jig, and some additional colorful landscape expressions before tapering off. All of this us cast in a filmic modern style that includes some fine solo writing across the orchestra. Nan Avanti moves us into a more ethnic-specific musical language enhanced by the use of bagpipes and Uillean Pipes for her romantically-tinged Tributum. The folkish quality of the music makes it a more traditional orchestral tone poem with gorgeous melodic writing and rich string sound (it has that Braveheart/Far and Away quality). Richard E. Brown’s Voices of the Night takes its inspiration from a Longfellow poem and moves us into a nocturnal fantasy of evening sounds, dancing shadows in the darkness, and the appearance of dawning light in this fascinating piece. Lost Voices is a reflection of those whose lives have been tragically cut short by violence with a musical exploration to underscore the different traumatic stages as well of those left behind in Deborah Kavasch’s work. There are some quite touching moments in this work where we move from dissonance into a richer, consonant glimmer of hope with subtle shades of wind color to help against shimmering strings. The RSNO recordings are all fine, with a sometimes tentative feel to the performances which can feel a bit clinical in spots.
The Brno Philharmonic is featured in three briefer pieces to close off this ample release of new orchestral music. First up is Manannan-Legend of the Sea by Anthony Wilson. The eleven-minute work moves through different scenes depicting the gentleness as well as the power of the ocean with the added attraction here of a mythical Irish character cast in a Neo-Romantic style. From mythology we move onto to nuclear physics with a musical depiction of the revolving chaos of atomic nuclei in Ben Marino’s Yrast 2.0. Small motivic ideas swirl about with slow builds in this evocative music. The album concludes with Kim Diehnelt’s Striadica: A Symphonic Passage with a more abstract programmatic quality that connects somewhat to the approach of the piece that precedes it.
These orchestral works provide a glimpse into new voices writing for these forces. The pieces are all well-constructed and the program here moves well from the inviting into some of the more dissonant and abstract works which is a common approach on Navona’s releases. Some pieces seem to work better than others which is of course a subjective reality for one’s first experience of new music. In short, it allows a little bit of something for anyone interested in contemporary orchestral music.