Christopher Blake: Angel at Ahipara / Strings of the New Zealand SO

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Inspired by paintings and photographs of the composer's homeland, New Zealander Christopher Blake wrote the four works for string orchestra on this Atoll CD between 2000 and 2008. Performed by the Strings of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra conducted by Kenneth Young, these works are Angel at Ahipara (2000), Night Journey to Pawarenga (2003), Christ at Whangape (2008) and Anthem on the Kaipara (2007).

A half dozen of the black and white photographs taken by Robin Morrison that inspired Christopher Blake's music are included in the CD booklet. They are as unforgettable as is the music. In the photograph that inspired the album's title work, Angel at Ahipara, the weathered stone sculpture of an angel stands vigil over a grave. We are looking over her shoulder and can see the stark, desolate landscape and low lying hills that would also be in her field of view. Blake's music, somber and austere, cold and brooding, captures in music the image in the photograph. It is very beautiful, not in terms of melody or harmony, but in the music's honest, direct, spiritual expression.

There can be a particular raw power in the sound of a string orchestra. Perhaps it comes from the knowledge the players have that they must communicate the entire emotional range of the music without the help of brass or percussion to carry the most exhilarating moments over the top. The strings of the New Zealand Orchestra dig deep to get that sound, then contrast it by floating a pure and luminous tone when it is called for. You can listen to Angel at Ahipara as our sample track from the album.