British composer of exotic Georgian-Russian-Greek-Austrian parentage, Lydia Kakabadse is one of those unfortunate composers whose music is so instantly appealing that its total neglect by broadcasters, concert organisers, musicians and labels is utterly baffling. This appears to be her first appearance on CD, and credit to Naxos for recording this sparkling selection of Kakabadse’s music.
The Song of the Shirt is a stand-alone lied, included primarily because Kakabadse wrote it when she was still only fifteen, setting a text by the 19th century poet Thomas Hood describing poverty and exploitation of the poor. Though very straightforward, it is well written, melodic and effective, characteristics of all of Kakabadse’s music on this disc.
In the two works scored for string quartet, Arabian Rhapsody Suite and Russian Tableaux, a double-bass replaces the usual second violin. Both cast in three movements and lasting about ten minutes, these are fairly light works, successfully focusing on conjuring up local atmosphere, but they are far from trite and by dint of their easy-flowing melody would surely make memorable fillers between profounder material in any number of quartet recitals.
The final two works both include a role for narrator. Such pieces are not always afforded the credit they merit, with their effectiveness sometimes compromised by the ‘wrong’ narrator. But Kit Hesketh-Harvey – the Kit of musical comedy duo ‘Kit and the Widow’ – is a safe choice, being a fine communicator and having a decent voice with little in the way of irritating mannerisms. The Mermaid tells an unlikely story but is an extraordinarily appealing one for young children, much in the style of Peter and the Wolf but at 12 minutes an ideal length for little listeners. The music, needless to say, is simple, but delectable and immediate from beginning to end.
Hesketh-Harvey is occasionally slightly overbearing and melodramatic in The Phantom Listeners, a much longer work based on Walter de la Mare’s famous 1912 poem, The Listeners, with four additional scenes well written by Kakabadse’s friend Jen Syrkiewicz. Effectively Hesketh-Harvey recites the poem – with considerable relish, shouting where necessary and sometimes where not – over narrative music, whilst the soprano, mezzo and baritone – the Phantom Listeners – sing here and there in Latin. What they sing is only available to those fluent in Latin, because Naxos only supply (via download) a copy of de la Mare’s poem with Syrkiewicz’s additions.
This is in effect a cantata, and a fine one at that, suitable for both adult and younger audiences alike. The work is lightly but beautifully orchestrated by Kakabadse, with the occasional dramatic use of organ, cymbals, side drum and chimes, and melodies as timelessly appealing as those of the string quartet pieces. The Latin actually works very well, lending the music an archaic feel, rather like Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, which reinforces the sense of the old that permeates de la Mare’s poem.
Recording quality is very good, though the sound may be a tad over-processed. The CD booklet is slim but informative: Kakabadse’s own notes on her works are helpfully descriptive, and every single performer gets a small biography and photo – well earnt indeed, for their contributions to this delightful CD that will please, and deserves, a wide audience.
A delightful CD that will please. It deserves a wide audience.