Viola Dolorosa Music by Peter Seabourne and Benjamin Britten

Peter Seabourne’s Pietà, recently released by Sheva Contemporary, is a powerful, emotional work that casts a real spell over the listener revealing him to be a composer of immense emotional clout

It was only in September that I reviewed British composer, Peter Seabourne’s www.peterseabourne.com compelling piano work, Steps Volume 5: Sixteen Scenes before a Crucifixion released by Sheva Contemporary, a subsidiary label of the Italian record company Sheva Collection

Now from Sheva Contemporary comes a recording of Peter Seabourne’s work for viola and piano Pietà coupled with Benjamin Britten’s Elegy and Lachrymae, performed by Georg Hamann (viola) and Akari Komiya (piano)

Pietà - duo for viola and piano (2007) was written for Georg Hamann and is a large scale work in five movements in memoriam for the composer’s parents. The composer tells us that the inspiration was partly pictorial, ‘in as much as the Pietá statues of Michelangelo have always been a haunting memory from a trip to Italy many years ago, perhaps especially the almost god-like, all-encompassing ‘knowing’  on the face of Nicodemus.’

A gentle piano theme opens Berceuse soon joined by the viola to move the gently rocking theme forward. Despite a little rise in passion the music soon falls to a hushed meditative nature. Soon it succeeds, rising in passion with pizzicato viola phrases before moving through some fine textures for viola above an occasionally dissonant piano part. A solo viola passage is reached where the viola brings a gently pleading moment to which piano joins with broader delicate phrases. The music falls to a hush out of which the piano brings lovely phrases soon joined by viola in the most exquisitely sad moment before moving slowly and eloquently to the hushed coda.

Enigmas opens with strident viola and piano phrases that quickly open out with lovely flourishes for viola and piano. The opening is repeated out of which rippling piano phrases combine with a flowering viola line. The music moves ahead with both players finding a real passion combined with a sense of searching. There are passages of lovely freedom and delicate beauty interspersed by more passionate moments, the viola creating some lovely textures and timbres. The music slowly builds through some passages of intense passion before quietening to bring a rising and falling viola motif over piano chords before a series of hushed piano chords, separated by rests, brings the haunting coda.

The piano opens Elegy magically before the viola enters bringing gossamer harmonics with a gentle theme that gently rises and falls before growing in strength and texture. Again one senses a certain questing feel or certainly anxiousness. A piano passage leads gently and melancholy, hesitantly forward with the viola joining to add little harmonics in this intensely sad movement, almost that of someone crying.  Indeed, the piano seems to keep a more distant melancholy over which the viola cries before the coda arrives, quietly with no resolution.

There is a fiery opening for viola and piano to Seven Roads with staccato phrases that nevertheless push forward with a vengeance. Soon the intensity slackens but the anger is still hovering and, despite moments of relative calm, the music soon rises in drama. Here is some tremendous passion, caught brilliantly by these fine artists. The staccato phrases return before the music quickens with pizzicato viola alone bringing a hushed section but with the feel of restrained emotion, as though anything could burst out any minute.

However, the piano quietly joins in a more expansive motif, the two soloists bringing an eerie calm before slowly rising in emotion and dynamics with the viola developing some intense textures over a dramatic piano accompaniment. There is some terrific playing here with pinpoint accuracy between players. The anger is let forth again, fairly spitting fire, but subsides a little before pushing ahead with some terrific viola textures and, indeed, piano sonorities. Eventually the music subsides to a quieter section, a subdued passion and fire before short stabbing viola chords lead to the coda giving the impression that the viola and piano find difficulty uttering their short phrases.

Deep piano chords slowly open Reminiscence with an immediate air of tragedy. When the viola enters there is a lighter melancholy feel, the viola bringing lovely textures and the piano, the loveliest limpid piano phrases. This is a quite spellbindingly beautiful movement with tragedy looming large. The viola tries to find a strength as it leads mournfully forward. There are such beautifully conceived little harmonies between viola and piano before the music gains in strength with firmer piano chords underpinning the more limpid piano phrases over which the viola brings its intensely sad theme. There is often the feeling of tragic emptiness at the heart of the viola’s painful melody. A hushed pizzicato motif is heard from the viola as the piano’s gentle little phrases try to lead ahead as the coda arrives.

This is a powerful, emotional work that casts a real spell over the listener. Georg Hamann and Akari Komiya put their heart and soul into the music providing the most passionate and eloquent of performances.

Benjamin Britten’s Elegy for solo viola proves to be a remarkably mature work by the 16 year old composer. Here Georg Hamann gives a fine performance as the music rises in passion through some very fine passages, bringing some fine textures and sonorities. A hushed passage for pizzicato viola is heard before the music rises back up through some fine melodic passages with distinctive double stopped harmonies adding to the texture to the hushed coda.

Lachrymae Reflections on a song of Dowland, Op. 48a comes from later in the composer’s life, 1950, and first performed by the distinguished violist, William Primrose with the composer as pianist. It receives a lovely performance from Georg Hamann and Akari Komiya both sensitive to the often strangely haunting atmosphere of the piece. There are passages of more brittle quality as well as intense power and thrust, in some ways reflecting the emotional nature of Peter Seabourne’s music. These two players bring moments of terrific virtuosity before a most poignant coda.

If anything Pietà is an even more impressive work than Sixteen Scenes before a Crucifixion revealing a composer of immense emotional clout.

These players are really first class and are well recorded. There are excellent booklet notes.

The Classical Reviewer