Korros Ensemble was formed in 2001 when Eliza Marshall (flute), Nick Ellis (clarinet) and Camilla Pay (harp) were students at the Royal Academy of Music. Nostalgica is the group’s debut album, and all the pieces have been carefully selected to sit alongside Elizabeth Poston’s Trio, which the group released last year as an EP, also on Convivium Records. Two further works by Poston are included, along with works by composers Catrin Finch and Cheryl Frances-Hoad, two pieces by film and screen composer Howard Blake, and a work by clarinettist Nick Ellis.
The recording opens with a burst of colour from a bygone age. While Nick Ellis wrote Jacqueline’s Theme for Korros in 2022, its dazzling sounds transport the listener back to the 1930s. The sonorities of flute and clarinet soar over the rippling harp, and as the music settles, the theme is developed over warm chords. The central harp solo section offers a contrast to the tonal palette and flourishes from flute and clarinet, which together sound more like a harp than woodwinds. The rising and falling figures return, decorating the uncomplicated melodic line, with the overall nostalgic feel making this an apt opening for the disc.
While Ravel wrote effectively for flute, clarinet and harp in his Introduction and Allegro, this was with the addition of a string quartet. Elizabeth Poston’s Trio for flute, clarinet and harp was possibly the first work for just this combination without strings. Written in 1958 for the Hampton Music Club, the work’s premiere performance was given by Thea King (clarinet), Wilfred Smith (flute) and Maria Korchinska (harp). The four contrasting movements open with ‘Piacevole’, brooding and calm, with occasional flourishes from flute and clarinet that often overlap in the same range. Indeed, it was difficult to tell the two voices apart at one point. ‘Molto moderato’ is a gently pulsing pastoral, beautiful yet dark and sombre, representing the nature-loving composer’s despair at the countryside ‘given over to pylons and concrete’. The new town of Stevenage had been built over her childhood home. While not titled on the manuscript, Poston referred to the movement as ‘Pastorale nostalgica’. The shorter third movement, ‘Dolce delicato’, is playful, with high harp and flute interweaving lines as the clarinet plays a winding melody. It is wonderful writing, delightfully brought to life by the players. The final ‘Vivace scherzando’ is best summed up in Poston’s own words: ‘magic Fileuse spins finer than gossamer’. It’s another charming, lively movement, in an irregular time signature, with all players bringing out the dance qualities.
Howard Blake’s Trio was written in 1962, originally as music for an experimental film called A Few Days, which he also produced and directed. Publisher Chappells approached Blake to suggest the ‘Romantic Theme’ could be published as a trio, but requested piano rather than the original harp accompaniment. Two further movements were added, which are delightful as expected from a composer with vast experience writing for stage and fi lm. The warmth of the ‘Allegro’ (based on the original ‘Romantic Theme’) is followed by ‘Andante’ (a waltz with a Gymnopédie feel) before the final ‘Allegro’ again brings out the best of the fast, spirited qualities of all three instruments. In seeking to add works to the repertoire by female composers, Korros approached Cheryl Frances-Hoad, who was able to offer Vocalise, originally for soprano, clarinet and harp. The flute and clarinet are more vocal and melodic in the texture, while the harp plays a more of an accompaniment role. However, the shapes produced by all three players breathe plenty of warmth into this five-minute work. Catrin Finch’s Nuntii (Latin for messenger or messages) is the only work on the disc by a harpist. Written as part of a larger work to represent the solar system, the syncopations allow the three to players fly, overlap, interweave and dance.
Other works on the disc include Poston’s Three Pieces for flute and harp, and Forma for solo harp, both very different soundworlds to the Trio heard earlier. While the writing for harp is full of interest elsewhere, it was refreshing to hear the full potential of the solo harp playing melody and accompaniment.
Pennillion, an ancient Welsh word meaning ‘instrumental variations on a song’, was originally written for violin and harp by Howard Blake in 1975. Various reworkings eventually resulted in this flute, clarinet and harp version from 2009. The opening is delicate and gentle, followed by dances and soaring melodies, all wide-ranging in styles. The original composition was for a large Jewish festival, as is apparent from the Klezmer-inspired moments.
After 20 years of collaboration alongside successful individual careers, Korros’s blend of sound and ensemble on this disc is superb. Meanwhile, the thoughtful choice of repertoire links the pieces in meaningful ways without ever feeling forced together. Informative programme notes complete an excellent package.