The Strad Issue: January 2012
Description: A generous 60th birthday present for one Britain’s leading composers
Musicians: Leila Josefowicz*, Alexandra Wood† ‡ (violin) Huw Watkins† , Ryan Wigglesworth (piano) Claire Booth (soprano) BCMG, BBC Symphony Orchestra/Oliver Knussen
Composer: Knussen

This second all-Knussen release on the enterprising British NMC label, marking the composer’s 60th birthday, offers a more than 30-year-long window into the career of one of the UK’s leading composers. It’s a nicely balanced collection, including the orchestral Choral from the early 1970s, two song cycles standing 15 years apart and two delicate, spacious piano pieces. There are also three violin-based works. The solo-violin Secret Psalm (1990) is played by Alexandra Wood, who emphasises its sinuous lines, its harmonic richness and above all its incantatory effect. Wood is also the soloist (this time joined by pianist Huw Watkins) in Autumnal (1976–7), dedicated to the then recently deceased Benjamin Britten. The melody of its first-movement ‘Nocturne’ is almost entirely double-stopped for the first part and the atmospheric ‘Serenade’ spiked with hushed tremolo-effect pizzicatos – both are executed with expressive intensity.

Perhaps the biggest-name current champion of Knussen’s works, Leila Josefowicz, is the soloist in the Violin Concerto, written a decade ago for Pinchas Zukerman. Recorded at the BBC Proms in 2007, Josefowicz is on good form, thrilling in the cadenza-like writing of the Recitative and lush in tone. She’s equally impressive in the sometimes hurtling, sometimes strangely exotic final Gigue. Despite being recorded live, the orchestra is captured in fine detail.

Edward Bhesania