Howard Skempton: The Rime of the Ancient Mariner


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Howard Skempton: The Rime of the Ancient Mariner


Presto Disc of the Week

5th May 2017

Gramophone Magazine

Editor's Choice - June 2017



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Release date:

21st April 2017




63 minutes


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Howard Skempton: The Rime of the Ancient Mariner


Only the Sound Remains

Christopher Yates (viola)

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

Roderick Williams (baritone)


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Read Presto's complete review of this disc here.

Perfectly crafted, deceptively simplistic and distinctively individual, Howard Skempton's compositions have a soundworld all of their own. This new full-length album on NMC perfectly displays his experimental, yet sonorous and tonal music.

Skempton takes on Coleridge's epic poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and brings it to life, using just solo voice (baritone) and small chamber ensemble. The result is a stunning, dark and hypnotic journey led by the almost constant, magnetic presence of Roderick Williams, for whose voice and dramatic capabilities the piece was conceived.

Only the Sound Remains takes its name from the opening line of The Mill-Water by English poet Edward Thomas. The piece is an evocation of loss and decay, where textures, and melodies mysteriously recur, while others simply fade beautifully out of aural reach. It is written for for sixteen players, including solo viola. This is a stunning premiere recording of two recent works by one of Britain's finest living composers.

Howard Skempton: The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

Howard Skempton: Only the Sound Remains

Only the Sound Remains

Howard Skempton and Roderick Williams in conversation

Presto Classical

Katherine Cooper

5th May 2017

“Williams is, as ever, the most spellbinding of of the many things I love about this work is the curious synergy between composer and performer in that both resist the temptation to gild the lily, and in the recording session I attended it really did seem as if Coleridge’s ‘Wedding-Guest’ was conjuring both text and music into being for the very first time.”

The Times

14th April 2017

“[Skempton's] deceptively simple setting of Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (almost all of it!) is hypnotically effective...If at times it’s reminiscent of the sea-voyage movement in Britten’s oratorio St Nicolas, it’s also marvellously evocative.”

Gramophone Magazine

June 2017

“The vocal line [in Mariner] is necessarily dominant, given the wealth of imagery to be conveyed, though it helps when Roderick Williams has a clarity of enunciation second to none...[in Only the Sound Remains] Yates is naturally attuned to his concertante role, while Martyn Brabbins secures audible finesse from BCMG...this is a valuable addition to Skempton’s expanding discography.”

BBC Music Magazine

August 2017


“[Skempton] judges the balance between reiteration and variety to perfection, while the typical Skempton traits – clarity, deceptive simplicity and apparently familiar yet fresh and capricious language – are all here, sensitively conveyed by Birmingham Contemporary Music Group.”

The Arts Desk

29th July 2017

“The text is sung, beautifully, by baritone Roderick Williams. Exactly how Skempton's restrained, tonal music works its magic is hinted at in John Fallas’s booklet essay. There’s talk of nine-note scales and four-part canonic textures, though this barely hints at the work’s dramatic power. The piano’s entry at the start of the second stanza made me jump…as an exercise in effective musical storytelling, it's magnificent, and a piece to fall in love with.”

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