It may work for music students, but to these ears, one of the three extended tracks unravels the inventive beauty of the others.

Label: Louth Contemporary Music Society
Time: 3 tracks / 45 minutes

Louth Contemporary Music Society know how to première. They commissioned Arvo Pärt’s Deer’s Cry and Sir John Tavener’s O My People, giving both world premières; and gave an Irish début to work by the Kronos Quartet. This LCMS project features two commissions based on the biblical book of Song of Songs and brings them out through some very disparate forms of contemporary music.

“Naturale,” by Italian Luciano Berio, the longest track on this collection, separates them.  It is a part theatrical piece, performed by two players: Garth Knox, playing live viola (as he does throughout this collection) and Sylvain Lemêtre, on occasional percussion and recordings of a folk singer Peppino Celano.  

Somewhat raw and rambling, and feeling improvised, this may have intellectual value about the relationship between the singer and viola player, each from their different worlds, but it is overlong and rough on the ear when listening at home.
One of that composer’s pupils, Betty Olivero created “En la Mar hai une Torre” (“In the sea is a tower”). This piece, one of several she has written based on ancient melodies, takes words from Song of Songs in the original Hebrew and Ladino. It features the clear voices of Norway’s excellent Trio Mediaeval echoing one another in a somewhat dreamy manner. Harp, viola, cello and percussion add discreet colours.

The opening track "Just (after Song of Songs)" is most memorable and again features the pure voices of Trio Mediaeval. Radically more contemporary than the ancient songs in their luscious Aquilonis (reviewed on this site) and sharper than their other piece here, “Just” comprises snippets of dialogue from Song of Songs.

Writer David Lang has filtered out virtually everything but the phrases with a possessive pronoun and added, “Just”, and “and”, giving a set of lyrics that is a list of features:  “Just your voice, just your face, and my beloved...” As the litany progresses, strings and percussion gradually join in.

In the short term, the constant repetition of these few phrases might be a little odd, but relax, sit back and let it drift over its thirteen minutes and you get an almost entrancing mood.

If only comprising the works featuring Trio Mediaeval, this would have an alluring appeal, but the ragged viola in between them savages any such mood, leaving the other two pieces best investigated separately and downloaded as individual tracks.

Derek Walker