An ambitiously wide-ranging album demands a charismatic player

Fenella Humphreys: Prism

The Strad Issue: June 2024

Description: An ambitiously wide-ranging album demands a charismatic player

Musicians: Fenella Humphreys (violin)

Works: Music by Frances-Hoad, Bach, Satie, Shaw, Morgan-Williams, Small, Robertson etc.

Catalogue number: RUBICON RCD1127

Lockdown clearly still casts a long shadow. Though British violinist Fenella Humphreys doesn’t namecheck the pandemic directly in this eclectic collection of solo works, the disc’s inspiration, she explains, came from a desire to keep alive the music she’d arranged, discovered or had written for her in the spring of 2020. It’s a thoroughly laudable aim, especially when those unsettling circumstances gave rise (in one way or another) to exquisite musical miniatures such as Sarah Lianne Lewis’s achingly poignant Apart we are not alone and Together Apart, or the airborne acrobatics of Ailie Robertson’s lyrical, hen harrier-inspired Skydance.

Among discoveries or rediscoveries are George Walker’s bluesy, angular Bleu, which Humphreys attacks with requisite character, and Cyril Scott’s deeply evocative Idyll, which blends slow-moving melodies and frenetic movement in music that at times seems to pay overt tribute to Vaughan Williams’s lark.

Add to those solo-violin arrangements – Humphreys’s own version of Debussy’s ‘La fille aux cheveux de lin’ is particularly effective in its quiet passion and rhapsodic freedom – and you have a disc that, with its 23 brief tracks across styles and genres, feels at times dangerously more akin to a shuffled solo-violin playlist than to a curated succession of musical works.

However, that is offset by Humphreys’s direct, deeply communicative playing, which has a focused, sometimes reedy tone and an easy sense of airy agility that frequently brings her repertoire vividly alive, however bewilderingly diverse.