The Whole Earth Dances

September 2020, Champs Hill Records

Cheryl Frances Hoad - The Whole Earth Dances

Cheryl Frances Hoad - Cloud Movements

Cheryl Frances Hoad - Songs and Dances

Cheryl Frances Hoad - The Prophecy

Cheryl Frances Hoad - Game On

Cheryl Frances Hoad - Pay Close Attention

Cheryl Frances Hoad - Mazurka

Cheryl Frances Hoad - Medea

Cheryl Frances Hoad - My Day in Hell

The Schubert Ensemble, Sholto Kynoch (piano), Francesca Barritt (violin), Rozenn Le Trionnaire (clarinet), David Cohen (cello), Daniel Grimwood (piano), Rebecca Gilliver (cello), Sophia Rahman (piano), Yshani Perinpanayagam (piano), The Gildas Quartet, Fenella Humphreys (violin), Sara Minelli (flute)


A first-rate journey through some of Cheryl Frances-Hoad’s most personal compositions, written over a twenty-year period. This diverse collection of chamber works showcases Frances-Hoad’s originality and artistry, featuring everything from The Prophecy, her first professional commission, to The Whole Earth Dances, The Schubert Ensemble’s final commission before they disbanded in 2018. Famed for her ingenuity and creativity, Frances-Hoad draws inspiration from everything from Dante and The Prodigy to the Commodore 64 game console and environmental issues. This latest release builds on Frances-Hoad’s long-established relationship with Champs Hill. She has previously released four critically acclaimed recordings on the label: The Glory Tree (2011); You Promised Me Everything (2014); Stolen Rhythm (2017); Even You Song (2017); and Magic Lantern Tales (2018). Cheryl Frances-Hoad has been composing to commission since she was fifteen. Classical tradition (she trained as a cellist and pianist at the Menuhin School before studying at Cambridge and King's College, London) along with diverse contemporary inspirations including literature, painting and dance, have contributed to a creative presence provocatively her own. Her output has been widely premiered and broadcast, and addresses all genres from opera, ballet and concerto to song, chamber and solo music.


This is a lavish disc of chamber works by Cheryl Frances-Hoad, whose music becomes more intriguing each time one encounters it. The earliest piece is from 1998, when she was all of 18 (The Prophecy); the title work, The Whole Earth Dances, was composed in 2016. You could see her concepts as post-apocalyptic, or just very current (it’s close to the same thing), with inspirations from nature bright or dark, threatened or indomitable, the dangers of the digital shift, and much more. Either way, what impresses is the unfailing imagination, clarity and precision at every step.

Different pieces feature different ensembles or soloists; all offer dedicated and detailed renderings, ranging from an elegant navigation of the flute solo Medea from Sara Minelli to the startling Game On, essentially a three-movement sonata for piano and computer: here the mix of traditional expressiveness on the former and automated beeping from the latter produces a striking and slightly queasiness-inducing impression of what the future might hold. The second movement threatens Robots Will Rule the World, the last entitled simply Lament. Plaudits to Yshani Perinpanayagam who performs both parts.

On more conventional territory there’s brilliance, colour and fieriness from cellist David Cohen and pianist Daniel Grimwood in the irresistible Songs and Dances; and the shifting skyscapes of the Tuscany-inspired Cloud Movements are finely conjured by Rozenn Le Trionnaire, Francesca Barritt and Sholto Kynoch. But perhaps the outstanding item is The Whole Earth Dances: the Schubert Ensemble’s last recording before disbanding. Its Messiaen-like giant chords and plunging, soaring melodic lines are magnificently played; impassioned and irrepressible, it will live on. 

Jessica Duchen, BBC Music Magazine

Cheryl Frances-Hoad (b1980) has enjoyed a fruitful relationship with Champs Hill Records these past few years, this latest release a revealing overview of her extensive chamber output. Almost all the pieces emerged over the decade 2007-17 – the exception being The Prophecy (1998) which, drawing on human irrationality in the face of death, evinces a propulsion and cumulative intensity that speaks very much of youthful uninhibition. At the opposite end of the spectrum are brief pieces for flute, piano quartet, and violin and piano that touch on more reticent while often ambiguous emotion; or the five miniatures of Cloud Movements, where clarinet trio outlines scenescapes of exquisite poise. The lilting central panel of Songs and Dances is framed by inward elegies, while the three sections of Game On draw inspiration from game theory (the concept, not the rock band) and mechanised dystopia in this laconic interplay between piano and the engagingly ‘retro’ sounds from a Commodore 64 keyboard.

Bookending this sequence are works exhibiting Frances-Hoad’s understated yet appealing idiom at its most immediate. The Whole Earth Dances juxtaposes stark declamation with easeful contemplation through to the sombrely cathartic close, a gift for piano quintet, realised with conviction by the Schubert Ensemble. As does the Gildas Quartet My Day in Hell, music inspired by Dante with writing for string quartet whose post-Viennese sound world imparts a certain irony to these deft evocations of infernal and purgatorial ‘circles’.

With sound conveying the familiar clarity and spaciousness of the Music Room at Champs Hill, and detailed if rather haphazard annotations, this should find favour with those having acquired previous releases of Frances-Hoad, while newcomers could profitably begin here.

Richard Whitehouse, Gramophone Magazine 

“In these works it is easy to enjoy Frances-Hoad’s compositional art: it has an emotional property that makes it extremely attractive. Her sources of inspiration are multiple and diverse, which makes us understand that her creative process has a great power of persuasion. Some of the pieces on this album leave the listener with a sense of timelessness, time to reflect ... a diverse collection of highly expressive chamber works” 

Carme Miró, Sonograma (Magazine, Spain)

“... Frances-Hoad's music has a certain rhapsodic, transcendental feel which seems to take it beyond mere descriptions of the countryside into another realm ... the whole programme has the feel of being carefully thought about even to the extent of harmonic movement between works ... Frances-Hoad's careful approach to programming means that the disc does build to a satisfying programme with the shorter pieces being set off by some really meaty and gritty bigger ones. The performances throughout are profoundly satisfying.” 

Robert Hugill, Planet Hugill (Online, UK)

“... always holding my attention, these works often reminded me of the sparse, haunted atmos- phere of Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time. If you’re in the mood for feeling moody, you’ll enjoy this CD, as I did.” 

Michael Schulman, The Whole Note (Magazine, Canada) 

"I’m always struck in Frances-Hoad’s music by how, despite some common devices, such as the contrast between slow, long chords and spikier rhythmic movement, with great use of pregnant pauses, the atmospheres evoked are incredibly varied and individual to each piece ... all the performers deserve praise here - there is some challenging music, and all the players do great justice to Frances-Hoad’s fascinating and often virtuosic demands.”

Nick Boston, Gscene Magazine


Buy The Whole Earth Dances from the Presto Classical website

Stream on Spotify