Sally Beamish has enjoyed a productive association with BIS, which now releases three works involving full orchestra. The Violin Concerto (1994) is among her most immediate statements: its three movements, prefaced by quotes from Erich Maria Remarque’s novel about the First World War, All Quiet on the Western Front, proceed from a powerfully rhetorical conflict between soloist and orchestra, via a ruminative “intermezzo”, to a tense finale whose outcome is decisive if far from affirmative. Vividly scored (with some evocative writing for cimbalom), the work is ideally suited to Anthony Marwood’s blend of incisiveness and eloquence – as is Callisto (2005) to Sharon Bezaly’s resourceful flute playing. Here inspiration came from Ted Hughes’s translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Callisto’s transformations being represented by four types of flute and the “celestial beings” of Diana, Jove and Juno respectively by horn, trombone and trumpet – resulting in music by turns capricious, plangent and transcendent.
Yet the First Symphony (1992) leaves the strongest impression here. Beamish’s first work for orchestra is a set of double variations that integrates traditional Scottish bagpipe music with a paraphrase on Psalm 104, the outcome being a seamless though cumulative span that unfolds with truly “symphonic” inevitability. It makes no mean impact in this performance, Martyn Brabbins drawing a committed response from the Royal Scottish National players, who are hardly less attentive in the concertos. Spaciously recorded and with informative notes by the composer, this disc is ostensibly a first port of call for those new to Beamish’s music. (Gramophone)