From Vaughan Williams to Stockhausen, a celebration of creative diversity
I count myself fortunate to have benefited at an early age, when I was trying to compose, from wise advice from both Benjamin Britten and Elisabeth Lutyens; my Britten connection was East Anglia, where I partly grew up, and I heard Lutyens’ music on the ‘old’ BBC Third Programme when I was about 11 or 12 years old, and was bowled over by its sheer, crystalline beauty; I had no idea at the time that I would study with her a few years later.
I regularly borrowed from the local library which, possibly unusually, had scores of Berg’s Lulu, Henze’s King Stag, Stravinsky’s Petroushka, Tippett’s Midsummer Marriage, Don from Boulez’s Pli selon pli and a host of other 20th-century works, in which I immersed myself. At the same time, I was learning some of JS Bach’s unaccompanied violin works, as well as the usual Classical piano repertoire (against which I reacted for many years) and remember also beginning my long love affair with English Tudor music (far more congenial). The daily experience of school assembly with Church of England hymns (to this day I adore Vaughan Williams’ great contributions to this body of work) in conjunction with inspiring Saturday morning cantorial singing in synagogue, remains part of my ‘cultural mix’.
As a student, I attended many of Boulez’s rehearsals with the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the Maida Vale Studios and having had both Robin Holloway and Robert Sherlaw Johnson as university mentors, it is hardly surprising that I have reasonably 'catholic’ tastes which are, I think, reflected on my list of selected recordings.
The art historian Sir Ernst Gombrich wrote: ‘...I have little patience with the notion that the style of art expresses the spirit of the age’ and it is in this same spirit that I have selected ten recordings of music written between the 1950s and the first decade of the 21st century. Each of the composers in my list crosses stylistic and national boundaries: hence the conjunction of the 80-year-old Vaughan Williams’ Sinfonia Antarctica (1952) and the young Stockhausen’s Gruppen (1957). They were written within five years of one another, and in very different ways display vast imaginative leaps and a spirit of adventure, both conceptually and aurally. Such creative diversity and quality lies at the core of NMC’s own purpose and vision.
1. Hans Abrahamsen Stratifications, Nacht und Trompeten, Piano Concerto
Danish Radio SO / Ilan Volkov (Da Capo,rec 2004) Amazon
2. Benjamin Britten Curlew River 
English Opera Group / Britten (Decca) Amazon
3. Elliott Carter 1st String Quartet 
Composers Quartet of America (Nonesuch) Amazon
4. Peter Maxwell Davies Taverner 
BBC Symphony Orchestra / Knussen (NMC) NMC
5. Elisabeth Lutyens Quincunx  (Lyrita 2008 [re-issue of 1960s Argo recording]
Shirley-Quirk, Nendick, BBCSO / Del Mar (Lyrita CD transfer) Amazon
6. John McCabe Chagall Windows 
Hallé / Loughran (EMI) Amazon
7. Per Norgard Symphony No 7 [2004-06]
Danish National Radio SO / Dausgaard (Da Capo) Amazon
8. Karlheinz Stockhausen Gruppen [1955-57]
Stockhausen, Maderna, Gielen (DGG) Amazon (US)