Martin Suckling: The Tuning

The everyday is transfigured in this intimate collection of chamber music and songs by leading young Scottish composer Martin Suckling – settings for mezzo-soprano and piano of five magical, moonlit poems by Michael Donaghy and a string quintet written in collaboration with the poet Frances Leviston, whose readings of her own texts frame the four movements of a piece which pays dual homage to Schubert and to Emily Dickinson.

Nocturne for violin and cello bears witness to Suckling’s night vigils at the composing desk, setting down his pen as the stillness starts to ripple with birdsong, while the cello solo Her Lullaby is a nostalgic reflection on the early years of parenthood that also displays Suckling’s characteristically refined harmonic palette.

"This beautifully played and recorded disc shows his more intimate side. The Tuning sets five poems by Michael Donaghy, which share a vision of nature that is sometimes dark and unsettling. Marta Fontanals-Simmons reinforces the emotion in the words with her rich tone, eloquent legato, and impeccable intonation and diction. The piano, where Glynn is an equally impassioned advocate, is more turbulent, often using the extremes of the keyboard, obsessively turning round small melodic fragments ... Suckling’s music is varied and impressive, with the opening movement setting off like a rocket, the upper strings chasing each other over more sustained cellos; then chords in harmonics alternating with silences in the second; greater lyricism in the third; and a slow dissolution in the long finale, with tenuous harmonics again much in evidence"

'The first two things that were obvious on my initial hearing of this fine disc were Suckling’s skill and imaginative resourcefulness as a composer, and the striking sensitivity with which he deals with poetry ... performances are both technically excellent and powerfully emotional (without the slightest hint of excess or exaggeration). The pianist and the singer, Christopher Glynn and Maria Fontanals-Simons, are fully engaged with both words and music. Their partnership has a striking assurance, each clearly having full confidence in the other ... Taken as a whole The Tuning is one of the very finest new settings of contemporary poetry by a British composer that I have heard for quite some time. It would, in itself, be enough to recommend this CD enthusiastically. But the disc has much else to offer too ... The whole CD benefits greatly from assured and perceptive performances from all concerned and from the consistently high quality of the recorded sound'


MARTIN SUCKLING’S music is both expansive and intimate, and this new release from Delphian truly exploits this nature of his music. ... The opening song cycle, which gives the album its name, opens a vast colourful world. Marta Fontanals-Simmons handles the lyrical lines with delicacy and care and underlines the beautiful distinction and interaction between the piano and singer. Both Her Lullaby and Nocturne, work as wonderful palate-cleansers which contrast greatly from the larger works The Tuning and the string quintet Emily’s Electrical Absence ...Overall, the album manages to condense a lot of the wonderful qualities of Suckling’s works and leaves me wanting more"

"The mesmerising coupling between Marta Fontanals-Simmons and Christopher Glynn on piano, create the perfect ambience as they impeccably communicate with each other ... Words and poetry, like music, stirs emotions within us and Northumberland poet Frances Leviston’s texts, make for an equally engrossing collaboration in Emily’s Electrical Absence. Her words which she reads so effectively, are inspiring and shows Suckling’s adeptness at crafting his music to form an aural painting ... Suckling skilfully shows that whether composing for solo instrument or creating a narrative between two or more performers he is a formidable presence that creates compelling music through understanding the world around him"

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'[Suckling's] earlier releases confirmed him as being among the most distinctive British composers of his generation. This latest collection does likewise ... Suckling is at his imaginative best ... The string players from Aurora Orchestra render their pieces with no lack of commitment or finesse, while the close-focus sound of perspective annotations leave nothing to be desired. Those who responded positively to earlier recordings should find much to absorb and intrigue them on this Delphian release'


"It’s one thing for Martin Suckling to say that he composes through the night – as much for practicality as preference – but to produce music of such genuinely creative originality from these nocturnal sessions is another ... Suckling creates a magical allusive equilibrium between the unpretentious fluidity of the vocal line and glittering, unfettered, descriptive piano writing. The performance, delicate and precise, is beguiling. Also blisteringly original is the String Quintet “Emily’s Electrical Absence”, performed by members the Aurora Orchestra and speaker Frances Leviston, whose gently penetrating poems intersperse four exquisite musical responses. The inclusion also of Suckling’s Nocturne for violin and cello and Her Lullaby for solo cello as respective reflections is sublime, the lullaby in particular, with its ghostly harmonics and dreamy microtonal inflexions"

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Release Date: 28 January 2022
Catalogue No: DCD34235
Total playing time: 75:39
Recorded on 6-8 April 2021 in the Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, University of York
Producer/Engineer: Paul Baxter
24-bit digital editing: Jack Davis
24-bit digital mastering: Paul Baxter
Piano technician: John Tordoff
Cover image © Desmond Clarke
Session photography: foxbrushfilms.com | Design: Eliot Garcia
Booklet editor: John Fallas

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Album Booklet

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