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Richard Phillips at the Warwick and Leamington Festival asked me if I would like to compose a work for soprano and 8 cellos, the combination used very memorably by Villa-Lobos in his Bachianas Brazileiras no.5. I began to think and dream about the sound of the grouping, which itself seemed to conjure up the world of dreams-cellos effortlessly evoking the surreal landscape of the unconscious, through which a woman walks, singing wordlessly with closed eyes like a painting by Fuseli or Delvaux.
As it begins she lies in a deep untroubled sleep (Tranquillo). Images of childhood (Allegretto) give way to memories of a great occasion -perhaps a marriage? (Maestoso). A crazily-animated helter-skelter of notes suggests laughter and gaiety, yet with fears and dangers (Vivace). There is a memory of tragic , yearning love (Adagio) but the memory is broken by nightmare images of vengeance and death (Allegro Furioso). There is a waking moment, then return and sleep (Tranquillo).
'...most exciting of all a new composition by Howard Blake, receiving its first performance. Sleepwalking, a vocalise for solo soprano and eight cellos, describes in its seven continuous movements a world of dreams in which a woman moves from deep sleep, depicted by an eerie, unearthly sound created through the use of harmonics, throuh a series of episodes, half-forgotten memories and a brief wakefulness, returning at last in a final movement to sleep. The 12-minute work is technically demanding and Blake uses to wonderful effect the dark rich sonority of the ensemble to suggest night and the woman's hazy dreams.
Red Barn Cellos produced ensemble playing of a very high order and Mary Nelson's ability and charm enlightened both the Villa-Lobos (Bachianas Brazileiras No.5) and Blake's marvellous and evocative work.'
John Bradshaw, The Birmingham Post, 14/7/1998