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CD cover - Invocations Invocations
Contemporary Viola Works

Paul Silverthorne - Viola
John Constable - Piano
Black Box BBM 1058
The Scotsman

The viola is triumphant in this disc of new music featuring violist Paul Silverthorne and accompanist John Constable. It's all here, from the sharp, crystalline edges of Stuart MacRae's music and spicy cocktails of Jukka Tienssu's and Elisabeth Lutyens, to the sweet lyrical lines of Thea Musgrave, Richard Rodney Bennett and John Woolrich.
Kenneth Walton

Musicweb July 2001

“With this disc Paul Silverthorne triumphantly reinforces his position as commissioner and executant of contemporary viola music. With the exception of Luytens all the composers here are still vigorously active - and Luytens' influence is reflected in her two pupils, Saxton and Hawkins; most of the composers are British.

The longest piece is the first, Richard Rodney Bennett's After Ariadne. It demonstrates many of the qualities both Silverthorne and the viola encourage - allusion, reflection, and things veiled, hidden and emergent. Though not obviously in variation form Bennett unfolds his source - Monteverdi's madrigal Lasciate mi morire - only at the end of his lament. Clearly a model here must be Britten's Lachrymae. Both pieces share a sense of revelation and unfolding, a final simplicity of utterance reached through struggle - and if Bennett is not Britten's equal then at least his vision shares something of the older composer's transcendence.

Saxton's piece shares qualities of depth of tone, a certain keening - in his case specifically Jewish - and its fulfilment in a Rabbinic prayer, alluded to earlier but emerging at the close as a kind of benediction. The viola is well suited - tonally and expressively - to this kind of confidentiality of utterance; throughout the disc composers respond to darker tone colours and an element of fragility to produce works of searching depth. Thea Musgrave, for example, speaks of her little piece's “peaceful contemplation” but this belies its amplitude of expression, with a remarkable concentration of feeling and thought in its four minutes. Anthony Payne's Amid the Winds of Evening encompasses varying tempo and rhythmic features and shares with other pieces on this disc the great gift of saying much in a short span of time. John Woolrich, like Saxton and Bennett, turns to source material and like Bennett he has turned to Monteverdi. O sia tranquillo is especially hypnotic in its beauty. Colin Matthews' Oscuro is veiled, rocking, fractious and lyrical and impresses with its compelling aloofness.

But all the works impress; from Lutyens' own piece, the most fearsomely difficult with its agonizing quadrupal stopping, through Hawkins' dark explorations of colour and feeling, MacRae's fascinating sonorities and finally Kampela and Tiensuu; the former aggressive and the latter exploring the journey from taut rhythmic attack to benevolent silence.

From extreme technical demands to lyric simplicity, from tonal amplitude to wisps of sound, Silverthorne and John Constable, the most responsive pianist, emerge as worthy ambassadors of the contemporary literature in a disc of which Black Box should take great pride.”
Jonathan Woolf

The Times, May 22nd 2001

...Paul Silverthorne is a no less fruitful source of new music. Eleven new pieces on his album Invocations (BBM1058) reveal just a cross-section of his work. Colin Matthews offers his darkly oscillating Oscuro for piano and viola; Anthony Payne is represented by a solo called Amid the Winds of Evening whose 'twilit unease' explores extremes of pitch and timbre as a sharp animal fear and a sense of the numinous meet in veiled human angst. Elisabeth Lutyens' Echo of the Wind is a virtuoso soundscape of juddering tremolandi and harmonics. It's followed by a compelling piece by her protégé Robert Saxton. Invocation, Dance and Meditation is a witty and rhapsodic tribute to the shifting patterns of Hassidic prayer, and it's performed with Silverthorne and John Constable's characteristically eloquent bravura.
Hilary Finch Review

On Invocations, master violist Paul Silverthorne brings together a valuable collection of pieces he has commissioned from today's composers and plays them all with warmth and expression, while pianist John Constable partners him with constant skill and sensitivity (some of the items are unaccompanied). In all, 11 mainly British composers are represented, ranging from distinguished senior figures such as Thea Musgrave, Robert Saxton and Richard Rodney Bennett to the younger and less well-known Scot Stuart MacRae, the Brazilian Arthur Kampela and the Finn Jukka Tiensuu. The latter provides the most challenging piece here with Oddjob--a five-minute work that creates fascinating textures by shadowing a live viola with its electronically recorded equivalent. Of the more traditional works, particularly striking is Saxton's finely imagined Invocation, Dance and Meditation, whose origins lie in ancient Jewish religious and musical traditions. Equally rewarding are the lyricism of the biggest piece, Bennett's After Ariadne, based on Monteverdi's madrigal “Lasciatemi morire”, and Colin Matthews'--to use his own word--“cryptic” Oscuro. But everything is worth hearing and much of this music should appeal far beyond the boundaries of viola specialists or new-music addicts.
George Hall

The Strad - September 2001

This CD offers a selection of pieces written for Paul Silverthorne, principal viola of the London Symphony Orchestra and the London Sinfonietta and an indefatigable promoter of the viola and its repertoire. The best possible case is made for each piece, which is introduced in the booklet in the composer's own words and commented on by their dedicatee. I have heard many of these pieces within the context of a mixed Silverthorne recital, which is surely the way to do it: listening to this CD in one go is definitely to be avoided! In small doses, though, the recording proves uniquely fascinating, offering a conspectus of mostly British composing styles from the past 15 years or so.

Richard Rodney Bennett's After Ariadne uses Monteverdi's theme (which Britten-like, appears in its original form at the end) as the basis for its lyrical ruminations. Robert Saxton's Invocation, Dance and Meditation is based on traditional Jewish religious chants (but manages not to sound like Bloch). Hawkins' powerful Urizen (after William Blake's poem) was the first of the many pieces written for Silverthorne and has managed to establish a toe-hold in the repertoire. I would like to draw the listeners' attention to Arthur Kampela's riot of sound and noises and Jukka Tiensuu's electronically generated welter of sounds: these two unaccompanied pieces were written (and learnt!) in a matter of days when an orchestra proved unable to learn the scheduled concerto by B.A. Zimmerman.

Together with his long-standing piano partner, Silverthorne proves an ideal advocate of each composer's style, even when in Kampela's piece he has to draw from his Amati sounds that were undreamt of in its maker's philosophy.
Carlos Maria Solare

BBC Music Magazine - September 2001

Even though the cause of the viola needs no special pleading these days, it helps to have players like Paul Silverthorne around. Principal viola of both the London Symphony Orchestra and London Sinfonietta, he has coaxed, cajoled and inspired composers mightily to extend the contemporary repertoire. Sometimes, as in the case of Elisabeth Luytens and her Echo of the Wind, the response has been aggressive, testing player and instrument (a rich-toned Amati on loan from the Royal Academy of Music) to their limit. Other examples, such as Robert Saxton's tribute to the Hassidic tradition, Invocation, Dance and Meditation, have been fruitful studies in collaboration between player and composer, or, in the case of John Hawkins's Blake-inspired Urizen, keen-eared responses to the instrument's potential for dark utterance through soulfully eloquent melody. Interestingly, memory proves central to several other works in this gallery. Both Richard Rodney Bennett's After Ariadne and John Woolrich's Three Pieces invoke the music of Monteverdi. Oscuro, by Colin Matthews, looks to its own past in an earlier essay, Chiaroscuro, also written for Silverthorne. Thea Musgrave, Anthony Payne and Stuart MacRae each offer a thoughtful and characteristic miniature, while works by Brazil's Arthur Kampela and Finland's Jukka Tiensuu offer more avant-garde perspectives.
Performance: starstarstarstarstar Sound: starstarstarstar
Nicholas Williams

The Musician - September 2001

The very enterprising CD label Black Box has released a new CD by one of our top viola players, Paul Silverthorne, principal viola of the London Symphony Orchestra and the London Sinfonietta.

What is on offer is a wide-ranging mixture of contemporary music by 11 different composers that is very comprehensible and enjoyable. Unfortunately, there is not space to describe them all but Richard Rodney Bennett's After Ariadne, based on Monteverdi's madrigal Lasciate mi Morire is wonderfully composed for both instruments. John Hawkins' Urizen is a haunting work composed with real passion and lyrical conviction. Colin Matthews' intriguing twilight work Oscuro travels through landscapes of semi-dream and awareness before coming to a quiet conclusion. The City Inside by Stuart MacRae is dramatic and very positive right from the very first bars. This invigorating work alternates between bristling hard-edged energy and softer moments of less tension.

Paul Silverthorne's engaging and full toned playing is excellent throughout, as is his understanding of all the composer's different musical styles. The ever reliable pianist John Constable provides all the musical reassurance that a soloist could wish for. An excellent CD.
Graham Williams

Classical London

Paul Silverthorne is a 'real' violist; his sound is distinguished and couldn't be confused with a thin cello or veiled violin. The recording is consistently excellent despite three locations, and the booklet notes are informative.

That the viola doesn't have the profile of the violin and cello is perhaps explained by it being a 'middle voice' and thereby restricted... It doesn't lack for repertoire - Berlioz's 'Harold in Italy', Brahms's two sonatas, and concertos by Bartok, Hindemith (himself a violist) and Walton come easily to mind - yet there's the notion that the viola is not capable of brilliance and fleet-fingered virtuosity. It can certainly speak in anger and is capable of rapid-fire delivery - as the music on this enterprising CD demonstrates.

Richard Rodney Bennett's impressive 'After Ariadne' is a dramatic scena. Its Brittenesque journey culminates in a full statement of a madrigal by Monteverdi, who also features in John Woolrich's 'Three Pieces', affecting off-cuts from his Viola Concerto. Robert Saxton's 'Invocation, Dance and Meditation' is inspired by “ancient Jewish religious and musical traditions” - an increasingly ecstatic ascent is followed by sonorous reflection. Stuart MacRae is a composer to follow, as his Proms 2001 Violin Concerto showed. His tense 8-minute drama, 'The City Inside', had a storm as its starting-point, the viola aggressive and acerbic. Similarly, Elisabeth Lutyens exploits nature, and technical facility, in 'Echo of the Wind'; this and Anthony Payne's discursive 'Amid the Winds of Evening' are the finest of the unaccompanied pieces.

The viola's capacity for nocturnal musings is the core of Thea Musgrave's 'In the Still of the Night' and Colin Matthews's shadowy 'Oscuro'. Each listener will have different favourites.
Colin Anderson


Familiar as lead viola in the London Symphony Orchestra and London Sinfonietta, Paul Silverthorne here demonstrates his credentials in contemporary recital fare, all of which he commissioned. Bennett's extended scena continues the vein of nostalgia-tinged lyricism evident in his recent music, though the scherzando sections recall the rhythmic agility long central to his expression, and most likely indicate the Monteverdi madrigal that provided inspiration. Musgrave's contemplation features modal-sounding harmonies, while Lutyens' typically pungent miniature runs the gamut of viola technique in pursuit of the instrument's soul. Two of her protégés are represented: Saxton draws on ancient Jewish prayer, the piece given an evocative context through its tonal centering on E; while Hawkins offers a more discursive though hardly less potent depiction of Blakeian fall from grace.

Pieces drawn from a 1988 anthology demonstrate three strikingly divergent approaches to the viola. Payne's is an agitated study in tremolandi and fragmentation; Matthews revisits his contribution in a muted, expressive study in sombre shading; while Woolrich absorbs models in an inward-looking trilogy, concluding in a Monteverdian allusion of plaintive expectation. Whether or not MacRae's study in accumulating, maintaining and dispersing rhythmic velocity is an actual representation of his booklet-note description, it denotes a forceful musical persona.

Two 'last-minute' pieces round off the recital: Kampela's a hard-hitting interaction of pitched material with virtual white noise; Tiensuu employing tape delay in a riot of rhythmic superimposition and eventual diffusion of harmonics.

John Constable is his dependable self in five of the pieces, while the recording brings out the character of Silverthorne's Amati impressively. Booklet-notes, interspersing notes from the composers with background from the performer are a model of presentation. CD-Rom- compatible players can access four additional tracks, including an arrangement of Cole Porter's Ev'ry time we say goodbye; its wistful melancholy ideally suited to the viola's timbre.
Richard Whitehouse