Andrew West / Claire Hammond 
Fidelio Trio
James Turnbull oboe
Madeleine Mitchell violin
Roderick Williams baritone
St Paul’s Sinfonia, Andrew Morley conductor

Métier – Divine Art Recordings MSV 28624

It is hard to believe that Robert Saxton (who I still think of as ‘promising’) is now over 70! I recall being impressed by his opera Caritas at Huddersfield thirty years ago, but suddenly he’s a retired Professor, and here’s a disc of mostly recent pieces to help me start catching up.

A Hymn to the Thames for oboe and orchestra is more an evocation of moods than a literal portrait. At first much of it seems relentlessly busy, not helped by the – to my ears – rather penetrating oboe tone. However, if not actually tuneful there are clear melodic underpinnings to the music, including a couple of apposite quotations from Taverner and Tallis. I was particularly taken by the unexpected ending; no triumphant seascape as Thames meets Channel, but a dissolution, as of the individual in the cosmos?

Time and the Seasons sets six of the composer’s own rather earthbound verses. Roderick Williams sings with exemplary skill and taste, and maybe ‘tasteful’ is the apposite word: more recitative than melody, with very elaborate piano parts, I cannot honestly see them storming up the charts, but they do everything expected of the correct contemporary art song. Maybe greater familiarity will see them lodging themselves in my memory more securely than they have so far.

The Fantasy Pieces for piano trio take as a model the Schumann op. 88. To my mind this is the richest and most interesting music on the disc, highly inventive and immediately involving; admirably concise without quite being aphoristic. Especially fascinating is the fifth piece, a hushed evocation of bell-like sounds which seems to slow time, before the music plunges back into a passionate finale.

 The Suite for violin and piano shares the clear-cut virtues of the Trio without quite reaching the same heights: again, the penultimate piece uses bell sounds to inculcate a sense of suspense, though this time, with just two instruments, I am not sure it quite sustains its length.

Performances throughout are excellent, and the sound never less than very good. There are very extensive notes too. This CD has definitely prompted to me look again at Robert Saxton’s whole body of serious work, and I hope it may do the same for many others.

Review by Kevin Mandry