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Boots of Lead
Ensemble Detail(s)
Birmingham Contemporary Music Group
Ulrich Heinen (vc), Rolf Hind (pf), Rinat Shaham (Ms)
Label name
Conductor details
Simon Rattle/Martyn Brabbins

Work Title


Kites was one of Simon Holt's earliest commissions in 1983, and shows the complete assurance of the 25-year old composer. It conjures up the sight of various kites flying, colliding and catching the breeze, and the scoring, for only ten players, encompasses the filigree and the weighty. Lilith is a much darker work where the lines are sinuous and sinister: if Kites was about air, this is about earth. Even more so is Boots of Lead, a setting of Emily Dickinson, where the singer (the stunning Rinat Shaham), is combined with a larger ensemble. The arch-shaped structure of the poem is mirrored in the music, which rises to a massive tolling climax, before receding into uneasy silence. This was recorded at the premiere - would that all composers were lucky enough to attract the commitment that Rattle brings to this performance. Or the virtuosity that Ulrich Heinen brings to the unaccompanied Feet of Clay, an alternation of heroic and nervy music increasingly destabilised by lengthy silences; and Rolf Hind to eco-pavan, a gostly dance with a strong sense of ritual, electrifyingly scored for an ensemble including a prominent cimbalon, and, like the rest of the disc, performed and recorded with the utmost sensitivity and claritty.
Martin Cotton, BBC Music Magazine, 12/1/2004

Five of Simon Holt’s chamber works composed over the past 20 years: haunted, darkly brilliant inventions that confirm his ability to make apparently simple musical images speak volumes.
David Cairns, Sunday Times 'Records of the Year', 12/12/2004

This is NMC's second disc devoted to Simon Holt's pungent and highly wrought music, while it remains ignored by other labels. The collection ranges across his career as a composer. Kites, written for the London Sinfonietta in 1983 when Holt was 25, was the piece with which he really established himself as a distinctive voice in British contemporary music, while the solo-cello scena Feet of Clay and the Emily Dickinson setting Boots of Lead both date from 2002. All of these pieces repay repeated study, for Holt's music has never given up all its secrets too easily. Kites, for instance, still wears remarkably well, for, though clearly indebted to Birtwistle, the virtuosity and assurance of its ensemble writing remain startling. Inspired by his enthusiasm for Japanese kites, its sharply characterised patchwork of musical images depicts a kite fight whose criss-crossing stages are carefully specified in the score, and which is framed by music of ethereal delicacy and buoyant vitality. It is certainly a far more extrovert piece than the others here. Lilith - the title is biblical: Lilith was a serpent and Adam's first wife - was the first piece Holt composed for the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group in 1990, and remains one of the wiriest and most obsessively dark of his ensemble pieces. Eco-Pavan (another Sinfonietta commission, in 1998) is a sombre study in resonance and timbre, as the solo piano is echoed and shadowed by an exotic ensemble that includes bass flute and bass oboe, mandolin, cimbalom and a battery of gongs. It's a sound world with close connections to Boots of Lead, which is the bleak centrepiece of Holt's five-part sequence of Dickinson settings: the keening ensemble that surrounds the mezzo soloist once again contains a cimbalom, gongs and dark-hued wind instruments, which build towards a single, overwhelming and terrifying climax. This is music of unmistakable visceral intensity, played with exactly the right uncompromising vividness by the members of the BCMG.
Andrew Clements, The Guardian, 9/3/2004

Holt's work is so imaginative that its effect is invariably invigorating and inspiring. Writing on this scale means that Holt can make virtuoso demands of his performers, revealing as he does so his exceptional ear for what instruments can do. Eco-Pavan is expecially resourceful… a technically immaculate disc, performed with tremendous flair by all concerned. It serves to reinforce Holt's position as one of the very best British composers writing today.
Arnold Whittall, Grammophone, 11/1/2004

A British composer increasingly prominent in the concert-hall, Simon Holt is poorly served on disc and this second Holt miscellany from the indefatigable NMC label is long overdue. His intelligent musical narratives are brought to vivid life by the excellent Birmingham Contemporary Music Group in a mixture of live and studio recordings. The programme spans Holt's career to date, beginning with the youthful Kites. It is an expert and immensely likeable work, superbly played here. Everything else has an eerier, darker tone. Lilith depicts the biblical Adam's first wife in sinuous horn melodies and stabbing harp, amid sonorities glowering with nocturnal malice. Eco-pavan mirrors a solo piano with a distorting ensemble that includes a dazzling part for cimbalom. The timbres melt and transform, the plangent scoring addind an exotic flavour. Thirteen instrumentalists including offstage clarinet feature in the bleak Boots of Lead, a nightmarish treatment of Emily Dickinson's I felt a Funeral, in my Brain, recorded live at its 2002 premiere under Sir Simon Rattle.
David Gutman, International Record Review, 11/1/2004

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