RAYMOND YIU (b.1973): Symphony for Countertenor and Orchestra, The London Citizen Exceedingly Injured, The World Was Once All Miracle for Baritone and Orchestra.
Catalogue Number: 02W077
Description: Yiu was born in Hong Kong, and moved to England at the age of 17, subsequently studying engineering and absorbing all kinds of musical influences and finding himself as a composer. The slippery, fluid question of identity informs many of his works, from the literary labyrinths constructed by Anthony Burgess, whose fiction drew on his autobiography, and whose autobiographical confessions are at least somewhat fictional, to the obsessive, unhinged editor who compiled the first complete Biblical Concordance, to the wildly divergent poetical visions in the Symphony. Yiu's vocabulary is firmly grounded in tonality - sometimes very clearly so; he was after all raised on Cantonese remixes of 1980 pop songs - although he briefly departs in various modernist directions ad lib. The 2014-15 Symphony retains features of symphonic form, despite its unorthodox layout and the unusual, though obviously far from unprecedented, incorporation of the voice. It begins with an invocation of "strong music", derived from the deconstruction of the Walt Whitman lyric that opens the piece, in orchestral garb of surging, neo-romantic optimism. The following movement is a large scherzo full of the exuberant textures of a concerto for orchestra (including what seems to be a blink-and-you'll-miss-it quotation from a rather famous one), cascading forward until stopped in its tracks by a melancholy, elegant section based on a Scarlatti sonata, which swells into a huge shadowy waltz before the scherzo re-emerges. A pained spasm gives way to the lyrical third movement, setting a passionate love poem by Cavafy. The deceptively jaunty fourth movement depicts darker passions, setting Thom Gunn's disturbing ‘In Time of Plague’ from the days of the anxiety and obliviousness of the AIDS and drugs epidemic as a toe-tapping popular song. A terse orchestral interlude leads to the final movement, a love poem by John Donne set to warm, radiant harmonies and lush, enfolding orchestral textures. In the song cycle The World Was Once All Miracle, Yiu matches poems by the virtuosic wordsmith and sometime composer Anthony Burgess with an appropriately dizzying kaleidoscope of musical cross-references, in-jokes, and allusions. Burgess reimagined The Ring of the Nibelungs as a drama in an English grammar school, and in the first poem the fall of Lucifer gets the same treatment, with characteristic Burgessian wordplay. Yiu's setting is likewise something of a stylistic mélange, angular and angry, prominently featuring the musical monogram A-B. A woozy nocturne and an awkward, disjointed love song, emulating the striking timbres of the ceremonial music of British Malaya, where Burgess lived in the 1950s, follow. The fourth song's text is about music, allowing Yiu free rein in incorporating musical puns that reference Purcell, Arne, Beethoven and Debussy. An ominous clangor of bells prefaces the traumatized fifth song, a miniature war requiem cast in oblique but intensely unsettling language. This paves the way for the finale, Burgess snarkily penning a gallows-humorous epitaph, heartbreaking yet delivered with a sneer and a wink, which Yiu sets as a foxtrot, of which the author would surely have approved. Yiu further demonstrates his affinity with Burgessian thinking in his 2012 "symphonic game", The London Citizen Exceedingly Injured, which was the title of a protesting pamphlet by Alexander Cruden (1699– 1770), of Concordance fame. The piece is a teeming web of allusions to all things London, both musical and literary, including the exceedingly injured protagonist of Orwell's "1984", who turns to the nursery rhyme tune "Oranges and Lemons" as a mnemonic for London's silenced bells; this tune, along with the "nobilmente" theme from Elgar's Cockaigne (i.e. Cockney) overture, appears in various transformations throughout the work. The work is like an exuberant concerto for orchestra, with dark undertones, a portrait of a bustling city in all its moods, dances, songs, tragedies and triumphs. Texts included. Andrew Watts (countertenor), Roderick Williams (baritone), BBC Symphony Orchestra; Andrew Davis, Edward Gardiner, David Robertson.