Contemporary composers are not, on the whole, the most considerate members of the human species. Their time is spent writing music, promoting it, and making a living at some more profitable form of musical activity, like banking a university salary. Whatever time they have left is treated as me-time, understandably so.
All the more reason, then, to remember Oliver Knussen, who died earlier this year, for his vast generosity in conducting works by other composers – time that he might otherwise have spent finishing his own works. Ollie was a perceptive interpreter and naturally communicative conductor. He brings to life here two works of Julian Anderson, an English composer now in his fifties whose reputation has not travelled far and wide – and you can hear why.
Heaven is Shy of Earth drifts around a tonal theme, drawing in chorus and mezzo soloist in the kind of ceremonial that might call to mind Peter Maxwell Davies’ Orkney Wedding and Sunrise. It takes a long time to get going, and is eventually worth the wait. The soloist, Susan Bickley, is transcendent.
The companion piece on disc, The Comedy of Change, is neither variable nor amusing. You can go out and make a cup of tea without much changing in the meantime It is composer music written for other composers. Ollie, somehow, breathes life into it.
All credit to the Finnish label Ondine for bringing out this album. By buying it you will make a protest against mass culture and achieve membership in a very exclusive elite.