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Phil Muse, August 2010

Lyell Creswell (b.1944), Wellington, NZ native who now considers Edinburgh home base, shows a decided interest in furthering the scope of activity of four instruments (trumpet, trombone, violin, and voice) in works that reveal his range of interests as a composer. The Voice Inside, based on the striking and incisive verse of contemporary Scottish poet and novelist Ron Butlin, is billed as a concerto for soprano, violin and orchestra, and it truly casts both Pierard and Leppänen in virtuosic roles, vis-à-vis the orchestra as well as each other. The six poems center around the transcendent moments in which both voice and violin give utterance to sound, and then to music. The relationships are ever-changing: “Catch as catch can, / boy and girl, woman, man / contrapuntal, asymptotic, / palindromic / mirrorwise inversion / canonic imitation / Your theme or mine?” The two instruments appear as both lovers and rivals against the light orchestral backdrop. Movement VI is a scherzo, in which Pierard engages in pleasant verbal gymnastics with the evocative sounds of a string of names of famous violin virtuosi. VI, Burlesque, playfully twits the 12-tone school of composition: “Twelve equal tones, dangling on a score, / if one of them should modulate / would there be a melody / where none had been before?”

“Alas! How Swift,” the title of Crewell’s 11-minute concerto in a single movement for trumpet and orchestra, alludes to the fleeting passage of time, reflected in the swirling movement of the orchestral accompaniment, at the constant speed of 138 beats to the minute. That movement seems to echo the restlessness of wind and water (including, at the 0:57 mark and again, about a minute later, the chugging, guggling sound of water passing down a drain!) Often the orchestra is required to play both quietly and swiftly (musicians can tell you the difficulties that involves), and the trumpet player to execute frequnt double-tonguing. To return to the washday analogy, the orchestra goes into a final speed rinse cycle as we near the end, prompting a last burst of virtuosity from the trumpet.

“Cassandra’s Songs,” another example of a fruitful collaboration between Ron Butlin and the composer (with a verse from Euripides’ The Trojan Woman inserted as the text for the third song, of five) are poignant expressions of exile, identity, loss, hope and despair. It is another instance in which outstanding vocal artistry, here executed to perfection by Pierard, is brought to the service of great poetry: “Teach me, gods of song, some harsh lament / Dissonant with tears and howls, / Help me to sing Troy’s sorrows, invent / New sounds for my grief.” (The words I’ve chosen are Euripides’, but Butlin’s are on the same high plane of inspiration.)

Finally, Creswell returns to his Kiwi roots with Kaea, a concerto for trombone and orchestra that draws its title and the inspiration for its primitive beauty on the so-named war trumpet that was traditionally used by the Maori people to terrify their enemies before a battle. Of course, the Maori also have some of the world’s most beautiful songs and chants. But here, with the exception of a brief legato melody in the slow section of this work, the music is mostly staccato, phrased stunning by the soloist in a way that pushes the limits of the trombone in the way of terse, rhythmic excitement and a blaring suddenness that can create a miasma of sound, as it does when we first hear the voice of the Kaea. Truly, a hair-raising moment!

Barry Kilpatrick
American Record Guide, May 2010

Uniformly excellent playing.

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.

Andrew Whittall
Gramophone, March 2010

The Voice Inside (2001) and Cassandra’s Songs (2003) consist almost entirely of settings of texts by Cresswell’s favoured Scottish lyricist Ron Budin. Big issues are involved, and moods range from tragic and reflective to witty meditations on music and violin-playing: The Voice Inside is described as “a concerto for violin, soprano and orchestra”. Madeleine Pierard sings attractively and (for once) all the words are included in the Naxos booklet.

Gapplegate Music, January 2010

…Cresswell has a beautiful feel for the orchestral possibilities available to him and makes fine use of the various combinations at hand. His music is firmly in the modern mainstream. It is neither highly romantic nor is it especially abstract or dissonant.

The two works for mezzo-soprano and orchestra show that he has a definite flair for evoking sound-pictures that complement and extend the meaning of the lyrics. All the works give you plenty of evidence of a lucid musical mind at work…

Stephen Eddins, January 2010

Alas! How Swift, for trumpet and orchestra, and Kaea, for trombone and orchestra are strongly characterized single movement concertos, energetic, witty, and colorfully orchestrated. Soprano Madeleine Pierard has a lovely, supple tone, and she sings with passion and understanding. Violinist Vesa-Matti Leppänen, trombonist David Bremner, and trumpeter Michael Kirgan are vigorous and committed, and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, led by James Judd, provides a lively and polished accompaniment.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, December 2009

My first acquaintance with the New Zealand-born composer, Lyell Cresswell, has been one of the most rewarding in recent times, his fresh musical voice keeping well within accepted musical conventions. The Voice Inside is, to all intents and purposes, a concerto for violin, voice and orchestra, the inspiration coming from seven poems by Ron Butlin relating to the violin. The mezzo voice is given a rewardingly lyrical role, with the violin as an obbligato until the aggressive outburst of virtuosity in the second scherzo, the peace of the earlier movements shattered as the agitated and aggressive work progresses. By the final song, Plea, it has become overwhelmingly powerful. That same feel permeates Cassandra’s Songs, the five sections taken from a much larger work, Shadows Without Sun, a powerful utterance that speaks of exile and belonging. It was an inscription on a sundial, Alas! How Swift, that engendered a mini trumpet concerto where a fast backdrop acts as the contrast to the measured pace of the soloist who does at times gets caught up in the surrounding hustle. Kaea is a much longer work for trombone and orchestra, the kaea being a Maori wooden war trumpet, Cresswell probing the sonorities of the orchestral instrument, and at times returning it to the primitive sounds of the kaea. Cresswell has lived much of a highly successful life in Scotland where his output has been largely in response  to commissions. Also from New Zealand, but trained in the UK, Madeleine Pierard has the power and command to do battle with the New Zealand Symphony in the pungent moments of the songs, the more relaxed passages displaying a voice of considerable beauty. The remaining soloists come from the orchestra and exhibit suitable virtuosity. I presume they are all world première recordings and they demand your attention.

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