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By soundcollective, Apr 20 2017 12:52PM

An excellent review of our Concertato CD appeared on the Pizzicato website last month by Uwe Krusch, which has been translated here by Stephen Sutton.

sound collective/Lydia Kakabadse: Concertato

Lydia Kakabadse’s Russian/Georgian as well as Greek/Austrian descent, enriched by Arabian and medieval ideas, give birth to a an inspiring music mix. The Ensemble ‘sound collective’ as well as singer Jess Dandy prove committed and high-class performers.

In her quartet, the composer Lydia Kakabadse, who was born in England, replaced the second violin with a double bass. Overall, this deepest string instrument plays a special part in the program. The dark and substantial foundation of the sound opens up a special sound richness.

Another feature of her music is derived from her Russian / Georgian or Greek / Austrian ancestry, which she linked early in her life with both Greek and Russian Orthodox culture. Further cultural inspiration is derived from Arabic and medieval sources.

Five works are written for this string quartet with double bass, and there are two songs which also include a mezzo-soprano. The sixth piece is limited to the cello and double bass. It may be a guideline for this CD, since these two instruments have a concerted role in the baroque sense in all works. This rivalry of the largest and darkest strings will be described as a saber fight rather than as a light-footed fencer. The whole CD has a uniform soundscape, which results from the mixture of old sounds like Renaissance and baroque and oriental moods. Both dynamic highlights and unexpected developments are sparing. The composer finds her very own enveloping and relaxing tone, which is delightful, with a mixture of Hildegard von Bingen, Arvo Pärt and Sufimusik. Or in other words, the salon music is given a touch of Orientalism.

The instrumentalists who have joined together as 'sound collective' bring this music to the ear of the listener with passion, refinement and love. Also the solo passages of the “saber fencers” are playfully relaxed and charming. The singer Jess Dandy presents her short contribution with pleasant harmony, without any misdirected pathos. In short, the presentation is a pleasure overall.

Uwe Krusch (for Pizzicato)

Original in German online at

By soundcollective, Feb 27 2017 01:49PM

With our CD of alternative string quartet music by Lydia Kakabadse now being released we thought we'd ask Lydia a few questions about the works on the album.

Daniel Regan posed the questions to Lydia.

1. Could you tell me more about your choice and usage of a somewhat unconventional string quartet grouping - and why this is so fertile for your chamber music-related compositional endeavours?

All my string quartets are scored for violin, viola, cello and double bass rather than the traditional 2 violins, viola and cello. With the great richness and abundance of colour it adds to the sonority of a quartet, the bass features in almost all my chamber works. Its deep, distinctive tone and unique pizzicato sound cannot be replicated by the cello and I feel the bass is deserving of a place in small chamber ensembles such as a string quartet, where this timbral combination works well. Also, there is limited repertoire for the bass, especially in small chamber ensembles. Having started piano lessons at the age of five, I went on to study the bass during my teens under the late Ida Carroll OBE. I played in numerous youth orchestras and ensembles and I discovered first-hand what a difference a bass can make to an orchestra/chamber ensemble. Following the release in 2011 of my Naxos CD The Phantom Listeners, which included 2 string quartets – Arabian Rhapsody Suite and Russian Tableaux - I received a number of emails from bass students (and a cello student) from different parts of the world, telling me how much they enjoyed playing my string quartets and asking for more! Russian Tableaux was played on BBC Radio 3 on March 8th 2015 to mark International Women’s Day. Arabian Rhapsody Suite remains a favourite particularly on Swedish radio.

2. How did you find working with sound collective, and the performers themselves? What was your opinion on their realization of your works (i.e. did certain aspects come alive or spring out that weren't readily apparent or highlighted beforehand)?

I am very fortunate to have been working together with Sara Trickey, Sara-Jane Bradley and Ben Griffiths (and a variety of cellists) for about the past nine years. They have performed in a number of my concerts and recordings, so they are very familiar with my type of music within my non-conventional quartet grouping. I was introduced to cellist Tim Lowe by Sara-Jane last year and he quickly became well versed with my music. These four players instinctively interact with each other so well, have an excellent rapport and complement each other beautifully. As individual players they are very strong and skilful, each having outstanding technical ability. Collectively, they play as one creating a unified chamber sound, yet remaining individuals, which is a true measure of their artistic contribution. Regarding the Concertato recording, there were certain pieces/passages, which were masterfully brought alive by sound collective that weren’t readily obvious e.g. in the very atmospheric 2nd movement of The Coachman’s Terror the fast contrary motion scales as well as the fast runs one tone apart representing swirling snows and biting winds; in the Dance of the Clockwork Toys (3rd movement of Dance Sketches) bringing each of the toys to life; in the duet Concertato creating a striking display of showmanship through imaginative interpretation.

3. Do you feel like you have a particular affinity to the genre of chamber music (amongst others) - and what pieces/composers would you feel have a particular influence upon your approach to composition/timbral awareness in this area?

I feel very at home writing chamber music for smaller ensembles rather than for large orchestral groups where individuality is lost in the sheer number of players. Chamber music is a natural vehicle for me to express my ethnic origins and incorporate non-western music elements as an integral part of my works. It’s not so much particular composers/pieces which have influenced my chamber music writing, but rather different eras/regions/styles of music, such as: Medieval music (including Gregorian chant; parallel organum), folk music (including drones), Middle Eastern music (including the double harmonic scale, florid and highly embellished melodies, syncopated rhythms), Greek Orthodox and Russian Orthodox church music (including antiphons & responses, open triads). My extra musical influences in this area are drawn from a number of diverse sources and include Greek and Middle Eastern dance (which I previously taught), poets of the first half of the nineteenth century (particularly Edgar Allan Poe, Thomas Hood, Emily Bronte, Alexander Pushkin) as well as mysteries and the Gothic genre.

4. Could you tell me more about how Greek/Middle-Eastern melodies, rhythms and harmonies have influenced the compositions on this CD?

By way of background I am of Russian/Georgian and Greek/Austrian parentage and was brought up in the Greek Orthodox & Russian Orthodox faith and inherited from my parents a love of different genres of western and non-western music. After I left University, I taught Greek and Middle Eastern dancing and the rhythmic and melodic features of these genres of dance served to widen my creative writing. You can hear the Middle Eastern influences - characterized by the use of the double harmonic scale (also known as the “Arabic scale”), frequent accidentals and an emphasis on melody and rhythm rather than harmony - permeating through each of the works on the CD. Rhythms are often syncopated, melodies embellished and passages ornamented. In Cantus Planus and Recitativo Arioso the double bass, with its fast, arpeggio like pizzicato accompaniment, simulates the pulsating throb of the tabla (drum). In Cantus Planus the strings alternate with each other in Greek Orthodox antiphonal style and in Spellbound the drone to the melody simulates the Greek lyra.

5. Do you feel that there is a centrepiece to this album - and if so, what gives the particular piece such qualities? (I assume it's Concertato, but I could be wrong obviously!)

Your assumption is quite correct! I feel that the centrepiece to this album is indeed the duet Concertato for cello and bass, insofar as “concertato” (originating from the Latin “concertare”) means to fight or contend with and the cello and bass clearly contrast and vie with each other throughout this technically difficult duet. The term concertato was sometimes used in early Baroque music, involving “rivalry” or “contrast” between groups of singers/players. Whilst each instrument contrasts and vies with the other(s) in the quartets, it is to a lesser degree than in the duet.

6. Are there any plans for future recording projects, and if so - what works are you thinking of involving in such plans?

Yes, I am planning to record my choral work I Remember (words by Thomas Hood) together with new choral works, which I am currently working on. I Remember was commissioned by Forest School last year and premiered by Forest School Choir in April 2016 at the Bellevue Education Northern Music Festival 2016 held at the RNCM. Unlike my choral album Cantica Sacra released by Divine Art in May of this year, my new choral album will be made up of non-sacred/liturgical music.

7. Do you have any future chamber works planned?

Once I have completed my new choral album (referred to in point 6 above) I would like to get back to writing more chamber works. I am contemplating the inclusion of the Greek bouzouki (type of lute) in such future works.

Thank you Lydia!

The CD is out on the Divine Art label.

Please check out Lydia's website for more information about her compositional output.

By soundcollective, Dec 18 2016 10:07PM

It seems especially apt, given that the days are once again shorter, to explore how classical music interacts with the themes of night-time, darkness, and the ways within which we interact with the more tenebrous sides of ourselves. Below is a collection of music from a variety of genres which are directly or indirectly involved with the theme of the night – whether this means directly via the title (e.g. ‘nocturne’) or in a more abstract fashion.

Rebecca Clarke: Morpheus for viola and piano

A lighter choice than others on this list, Morpheus concerned it with generating an atmosphere related to its namesake – the Greek god of dreams and sleep. Clarke uses impressionist textures and harmony similar to those of Claude Debussy and Ralph Vaughan Williams, with pentatonic melodies mixed in with dislocating whole-tone scales contributing to a dream-like haze.

Radiohead: Climbing Up The Walls from OK Computer

This song’s subject matter deals primarily with the internal demons that many of us deal with on a daily basis, but framed within the primal human fear of the dark. Described as the band’s first foray in producing ‘scary’ music, Radiohead cleverly use string sections in the latter half of the song playing a quarter-tone apart (similar to the techniques used by Krzysztof Penderecki and György Ligeti) to produce deeply unsettling effects. Lyrics such as “It’s always best with the covers up” and “It’s always best when the light is off” offer glimpses of the macabre world Radiohead generate in this track.

William Basinski: Nocturnes from Nocturnes

Basinski’s Nocturnes takes a darker turn still; the piece seems to capture the essence of the night itself. Long shadows, pareidolia in dark rooms, creaking floorboards, that state between waking and sleeping, dreams, nightmares, moonlight shining on fields, dark and endless hallways…

Night is often seen as the negative to the positive day, and Basinski captures this perfectly in Nocturnes by utilising recordings of piano on tape loops, which are fed back on themselves in an almost obsessive manner. The piece never seems to be the same twice, while still remaining familiar and haunting.

Gustav Mahler: ‘Der Abscheid’ (‘The Farewell’) from Das Lied von der Erde

Der Abschied, translated as The Farewell, is the largest, most significant and final movement of Mahler’s song-symphony Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth). The journey this movement takes is that of the individual in question making their way through nature at night, surrounded by the lonely beauty of running water, forests, birds and mountains in twilight. Mahler so effectively produces this stark effect by having the soloist sing on top of just a low bass drone alongside solo wind-instrument semi-cadenzas (mimicking isolated bird songs). Mahler’s lyrics, adapted from Hans Begthe’s The Chinese Flute, heavily reference leave-taking – but the music suggests an altogether more sombre affair. While his later symphonies deal primarily with the theme of death and disintegration, night ultimately becomes the eternal come the end of Der Abschied.

Dmitri Shostakovich: IV. Nocturne from String Quartet No. 15 (Op. 144)

This movement comes as the fourth of six within his fifteenth final quartet, in the lesser-heard overriding key signature of E-flat minor. Shostakovich ascribed stylistic titles to each of the movements, which is atypical of his practices, especially within his string quartets. This Nocturne immediately strikes the listener as less stark than the movements which surround it; flowing muted string lines, a hint of a slow dance tempo and plaintive melodies offer a sort of respite from the violence elsewhere in the quartet, whilst conjuring a veiled, mysterious and ultimately quite unsettling movement.

Ralph Vaughan Williams: III. Scherzo (Nocturne) from Symphony No. 2, ‘London’

In the composer's words:

"If the listener will imagine himself standing on Westminster Embankment at night, surrounded by the distant sounds of The Strand, with its great hotels on one side and the "New Cut" on the other, with its crowded streets and flaring lights, it may serve as a mood in which to listen to this movement."

A particularly poignant part of the movement for me is when the boisterous melodies which carry the movement fall away and dissipate, leaving only isolated solo melodies and ambiguous muted string swells, which end in the movement in murky D minor. One can just imagine walking off the main streets - away from the bright lights and the crowds – and finding yourself in dark alleyways with buildings oppressively towering over you in all directions.

Burial: Night Bus from Burial

Contrasting with the previous entry, Night Bus by Burial represents modern-day London by night. Critic Simon Reynolds describes this track perfectly:

“Instrumented with a "beat-free Gorecki-like waft of mournful strings", represents the sadness of when Londoners, after clubbing, go through difficult public transport options because they're unable to afford cabs back to Zones three, four, five or six, which are low-rent areas for where they reside. This gloom is offset by the romance and greatness of the city as seen from a top deck, "neon twinkling like a recumbent Milky Way."

PJ Harvey: Dear Darkness from White Chalk

Sometime after 2004’s Uh Huh Her, Polly-Jean Harvey put down her guitar and take to the piano, an instrument she was altogether less familiar with. The result was the austere but arrestingly beautiful White Chalk. Dealing with more austere and personal themes than her previous albums, PJ Harvey’s move to the piano (and subsequently offering a sort of skeletal beauty to the tracks) as well as utilising the upper range of her voice more frequently produces tracks which have more in common with chamber music than the blues. Dear Darkness concerning embracing the darkness as an old friend – although it isn’t clear whether this is a positive or negative relationship.

Arnold Schoenberg: Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night) (op. 4)

Composed in 1899, Schoenberg’s early tone-poem (originally for string sextet and subsequently arranged for string orchestra) is inspired by Richard Dehmel’s poem of the same name. The poem’s subject matter centres around a man and woman walking through a dark forest on a moonlit night; the woman shares a secret with the man, who is her new lover – she is carrying the child of another man. Stylistically, the tone-poem utilises an ‘advanced version’ of tonality, but may still be seen as continuation of the late-Romantic idioms of Mahler and Strauss. The work is deeply tortured and brooding, but without an enduring sense of beauty running throughout.

Alban Berg: ‘Nacht’ (‘Night’) from Seven Early Songs

The first of Berg’s Seven Early Songs, ‘Nacht’, bears some similarities with other entries in this playlist (Der Abschied and Verklärte Nacht) in their subject matter and harmonic complexity. Yet the brevity and flow of this song, alongside a substantial debt to Claude Debussy (harmonically, to be exact) makes this song Berg’s own. The song utilises imagery from nature - much the same as Der Abschied – but the atmosphere generated by the shifting harmonies (enlightened by the episode in the middle) offers a much more obscured and hazy view of the night in comparison to Berg’s contemporaries.

Dan Regan

Music Coordinator

By soundcollective, Nov 2 2016 09:42PM

This months guest playlist is by composer Bernard Hughes, who's music has been performed at major venues in Britain and abroad and has received a number of broadcasts on BBC Radio 3. A CD of his choral music, I am the Song, was released in 2016 on Signum Classics. Bernard’s music featured on the Horrible Histories film Bill (2015) and on the game MMA Federation.

My concerto playlist

I decided for no particular reason to make this a playlist of concertos, for various instruments and from various points in history. Some have had an impact on my musical life, some I just happen to like – all, I reckon, are cracking pieces.

Henry Charles Litolff - ‘Scherzo’ from Concerto Symphonique no.4 in D minor

By soundcollective, Jun 21 2016 02:03PM

Claude Debussy’s Violin Sonata, composed in 1917, was the third and last work in a series of

six planned sonatas composed from 1915 onwards; Debussy was unable to complete the

remaining three, which were to be: a fourth for oboe, horn, and harpsichord; a fifth for

trumpet, bassoon and clarinet; and a sixth which was to “combine all those [instruments]

used in the previous five.”1 The Violin Sonata sits alongside the earlier completed Cello

Sonata and Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp.

Reviewing the instrumentation utilised within these realised and unrealised sonatas, one

can note that Debussy was using the designated instruments not only to provide contrasting

voices in terms of registral and melodic potential, but also in terms of timbre and

atmosphere. For example, utilising the variation of timbral opportunities present in the

Flute, Viola and Harp Sonata gives the Sonata in question an otherworldly soundworld of its


Apart from these sonatas and the copious amount of music for solo piano, Debussy did not

write a great deal of significant works for chamber ensembles – with one important

exception: the String Quartet (1893). A feature which links that earlier work and the later

Sonatas is that of the usage of ‘cyclic form’ e.g. references in a work to previously stated

themes, sections, motives or melodies which may be used in isolation, as a unifying device

or in a developmental sense. However, whereas the String Quartet utilises cyclic form freely

throughout, as both unifying and developmental devices, the later Sonatas – especially the

Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp and the Violin Sonata – are more restrained or subtle with

the recalling and referencing of previous themes.

This difference in the usage of cyclic form within the later Sonatas was also coupled with a

difference in attitude, on Debussy’s behalf, towards the use of the form as a compositional

tool. Cesar Franck utilised cyclic form famously in both his Piano Quintet (1879) and Violin

Sonata (1886) - albeit in slightly varied forms – and are both influential on aspects of

Debussy’s general compositional style, and especially upon his Sonatas and String Quartet.

Debussy may have felt, however, that one of Franck’s students, Vincent D’Indy, sought to

utilise Franck’s usage of cyclic form as a political tool to strengthen a link between

Beethoven’s ‘ideal’ usage of cyclic form in works such as his Fifth and Ninth Symphonies to

the then-thriving French school of composition, rather than the ‘inferior’ Germanic schools 2

(denouncing the usage of cyclic form by composers such as Schumann, Schubert and

Mendelssohn, for example). Debussy can be seen to be distancing himself from D’Indy’s

idiosyncratic interpretation of Franck’s legacy, whilst at the same time still subtly utilising

elements of Franck’s cyclic processes.

The Violin Sonata itself is characterised by sudden modulatory shifts, complex rhythms and

sprightly, ethereal violin lines in the latter two movements – albeit with a certain amount of

reluctance and resignation. One feels that this may be due to the circumstances within

which it was written; it was his last completed work and the first performance (May 5th,

1917) was his last concert in Paris. “I only wrote this sonata to be rid of the thing,” he wrote,

“spurred on by my dear publisher. This sonata will be interesting from a documentary point

of view and as an example of what may be produced by a sick man in time of war.” Cyclic

form in the Violin Sonata is minimal, but is still present - The Finale (in the major) gives the

piano a bravura opening to which the violin responds with the first movement’s theme,

although apart from some wild figuration at the end this is its only appearance in the

movement. Yet the usage of a technique which had Debussy had utilized throughout his

compositional career is still entrenched within his work; only, instead of being exclamatory

and colorful as in the String Quartet, the Violin Sonata’s usage of cyclic form is rarified,

illusory and ephemeral.


1 Claude Debussy (Francois Lesure and Roger Nichols, trans.) (1987). Debussy Letters.

London: Faber. 309.

2 Marianne Wheeldon. (2005). Debussy and La Sonate cyclique. The Journal of

Musicology. 22 (4), 644-679.



*Cyclic form: references in a work to previously stated themes, sections, motives or

melodies which may be used in isolation, as a unifying device or in a developmental


*Modulatory shifts: the process by which music moves through different harmonies or

tonal centres e.g. music in the key of C major moving to the dominant, G major.


Dan Regan - Music Coordinator