A composer worth watching, as of yet difficult to categorize.

ELENA LANGER: Landscape with Three People; Snow; The Storm Cloud (Tucha); Two Cat Songs; Ariadne; Stay O Sweet – Anna Dennis (sop.), William Towers (countertenor), Nicholas Daniel (oboe), Roman Mints (violin), Meghan Cassidy (viola), Kristine Blaumane (cello), Robert Howarth (harpsichord), Katya Apekisheva (p.) – Harmonia mundi USA HMU 907669, 59:57 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi/PIAS] ****:

42-year-old Moscow composer Elena Langer proves a surprising find on this fine disc of chamber works. She moved to London and finished her degrees at the Royal College and then the Royal Academy of Music, and has since received commissions from a number of famous and important sources. This disc, highlighting her skill in vocal music, is communicative and quite direct in its nimble and thought-provoking utterance. Her orchestrations are light and almost airy, Shostakovich-like in sonority yet ultimately more redolent of Britten on how the words interact with the music. Lee Harwood’s pseudo-description of his own love life in Landscape with Three People is performed to perfection by Anna Dennis, William Towers, and led by Nicholas Daniel, and the other pieces range from the haunting to the pressingly intense.

There is a hint of the avant-garde in these works, but it is tamed; from what I have seen and heard in some of her other pieces, this influence is not entirely kept in check, but at least on this album the music is manageably controlled, leading us slowly into areas that we might feel uncomfortable with, but then smoothing the path. Ultimately, I find all of these pieces supremely lyrical, delicate, exceptionally colorful, and well worth hearing, especially in performances as good as these. Harmonia mundi’s sound is, as usual, top notch.

—Steven Ritter