Castalian String Quartet
BBC Symphony Orchestra
Thomas Kemp conductor


Eleanor Alberga was born in 1949 in Kingston, Jamaica. From 1970 she was a scholarship student at the Royal Academy of Music in London, studying piano and singing. She developed an active life as a concert pianist.

For many years she worked with the London Contemporary Dance Theatre as accompanist, composer, and later, music director. In 2001 a NESTA Fellowship enabled her to concentrate full-time on composition. This well-filled CD (72 mins) contains three works that cover this century. 

The earliest is Mythologies, written in 2000 for the Hampshire County Youth Orchestra. Alberga has a healthy interest in Greek mythology, and her most famous work is probably Arise Athena, written for the Last Night of the Proms in 2015. Athena does not feature in Mythologies, though six other figures from Greek myth do. Divided between the Apollonian and Dionysian, it is an attractive work that belies its origins as a work for youth orchestra. 

The other two works are memorial pieces. The 10-minute Tower for string quartet and orchestra was written in 2017 in memory of her close friend, violinist David Angel who died suddenly aged 62. It is an intense work, paying homage to his life as a chamber and orchestral musician. It has the feeling of a concerto grosso with the quartet functioning as the ripieno group. It is immaculately shaped with careful pacing of material between the two groups. There are some achingly beautiful melodies for the solo violin. Mr Kemp balances the two groups perfectly.

The largest work here is the Symphony No.1, subtitled Strata, written in 2022 in memory of viola player David Nash. His love of both sailing and geology inspired the work’s six movements. The first movement is a rhapsodic depiction of the Hebrew Firmament, the sky above the earth, the oceans and chambers of heaven beyond. It is, in its own right, a highly evocative tone poem, which at 12 minutes could be extracted as a stand-alone work. 

Movement 4 entitled Crust, places us firmly on land.  At times the players shout out the word Earth in different languages and also ‘vita super terram’ – life on earth. It is a vibrant, colourful depiction of human life. Greek myth reappears in movement 5, Sailing on Tethys, Tethys being a long-disappeared ocean.  Delius-like playful waltz fragments are gradually swallowed by tectonic plates depicted by extravagant glissandi. The finale Plumes, an orchestral tour-de-force, depicts volcanic eruptions becoming ever more violent, ending the work with a bang.

Thomas Kemp brings his extensive experience of conducting contemporary music to shape these unusually structured works. He draws some beautiful sounds from the orchestra and string quartet, which have been expertly captured by the Resonus engineers.

Review by Paul RW Jackson