Portraits – Barry Mills – Vol. 7 – CC6050


“With the beautifully delicate soprano singing of Timea Gazdag accompanied on lute by Sam Brown, Barry Mills achieves a convincing marriage between modernity and early music.”

“there is a welcome immediacy of expression in his music, as well as an intelligent creative mind that conceived it”


Trio for Oboe, Cello and Piano (2020) was composed for the Brighton Chamber Ensemble. It is cast in five movements: the first, third and fifth movements are slow and use all three instruments whilst the second and fourth movements are fast and use only two instruments. This creates a kind of rondo shape across the whole piece.

In the first movement the theme is played by the oboe with the cello accompanying it. The first variation is for piano, the second for cello with the piano accompanying it and all three instruments play the melody in unison to end the movement. The other four movements all have imagistic titles, so the music here has an atmospheric, evocative quality.

The String Sextet (2020) was composed for Ensemble Reza. The first movement is marked “calm and joyful” and in it I have tried to express how uplifted I am by immersing myself in the sounds, movements and subtle changes of light in nature. In contrast, the second movement marked “very flowing, with a sense of constant movement” has a restless, agitated quality. The third movement is marked “with compassion” and is my attempt to express empathy and concern for all those who have difficult lives.

Portraits (2018) was written for the pianist Rachel Fryer. The first movement “Giraffes” reflects the wonderfully graceful way in which these animals move and my sense of awe at seeing them. “Cherry Blossom” grew out of observing this tree in our garden respond to gusts of wind, which sometimes dislodged enormous clouds of pink blossom from it. The last movement is a portrait of Rachel’s daughter Daisy aged four.

Trio for Clarinet, Viola and Piano (2019)

This trio was commissioned by the Brighton Chamber Ensemble, and I am very grateful to Stephen Carroll-Turner for obtaining Arts Council funding for its composition. Ensemble members Zoe Davies, Ros Hanson-Laurent and Stephen Carroll-Turner premiered the piece on 1 October 2021 in the Unitarian Church, New Road, Brighton.

The first movement is a portrait of the changing surface of the sea. Just as I had finished this movement, I learned that my dear friend Glen Capra had taken his own life. Composing “In Turmoil”, the second movement, helped me to confront my shock and grief by expressing this in music. The third movement is in memory of Glen, whilst the last movement quotes and briefly develops material from the previous three movements.

String Quartet (2021)

This quartet was composed for Ensemble Reza. The first three movements are similar in mood to the corresponding movements in the String Sextet I wrote for them a year earlier. The first movement is marked “calm, peaceful, joyful” and is an evocation of natural phenomena: birdsong, breezes and clouds slowly moving, changing shape and revealing or obscuring the sun. “Unsettled, edgy” are the directions for performing the second movement, which has a sense of unease throughout. The instruments are muted and play above the fingerboard in the third movement, which gives the music a contemplative quality. I wanted to end this quartet joyfully, so the fourth movement consists of a theme followed by four variations and ending with a reprise of the first part of the theme. The players are directed to play this movement “with a sense of dance throughout”.

Sea Movements (1999) was commissioned by Stephanie Cant and depicts the constantly changing surface of the sea. I am grateful to Rachel Fryer for making this recording of it.

Walking in Beauty (2021) was composed for Angela Hicks (soprano) and Sam Brown (lute). As Angela was unable to attend the recording session, I am very grateful to Timea Gazdag, who kindly stepped in at short notice.


The first movement is a setting of “She Walks in Beauty” by Lord Byron, which expresses a deeply felt love and awe at the beauty of the woman who is the inspiration for the poem.

The second movement is a setting of “So we’ll go no more A-roving”, which is also by Lord Byron and acknowledges the many limiting consequences of ageing.

In the third movement, a setting of the first two verses of “A Contemplation upon Flowers” by Henry King, the poet wishes that he could just accept life’s transience as flowers do and not desire “to have it ever spring”.

Winter Images (2018) was written for pianist and composer Michiko Shimanuki in response to her request that I compose a set of pieces about winter for her.

Barry Mills was born in 1949 and is for the most part self-taught as a composer. He obtained a degree in Biochemistry from Sussex University in 1971, returning there in 1976-77 to pursue an MA in Music, studying analysis with David Osmond-Smith and David Roberts and composition with Colin Matthews and Ann Boyd.

Portraits is the seventh CD of his music issued by Claudio Records. Thalia Myers commissioned the piano piece “Clouds” from him for the Spectrum 2 collection published by the Associated Board and recorded by her on the NMC double CD “Spectrum”. “Clouds” was issued by the Associated Board as a Grade 3 set piece in August 2002.

His orchestral piece “Tartano” was premiered by the Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra, conductor Jiri Mikula, in 1997 in Olomouc, the Czech Republic, and recorded by them for the Vienna Modern Masters label.

His music has been performed and broadcast in England and Switzerland and has featured in recitals in many London venues including the Wigmore Hall, Purcell Room, St Martin’s in the Fields, St John’s Smith Square, the Almeida Theatre and the Warehouse. Performances have also taken place in Wales, Italy, Germany, the Czech Republic, Greece and the USA.

To date Barry Mills has collaborated with Jerry Laurence (VPM Design) in producing 45 films of performances of his music for You Tube. These can all be accessed by going to his website** and clicking on the Filmed Performances icon.

He now divides his time between composing and organising concerts in the Brighton area.

Brighton Chamber Ensemble was formed in 2011 but has existed in its current form with piano since 2014. Specialising in exploring works with less familiar instrumentation alongside more mainstream repertoire, and ranging in size from 3 to 10 players, they perform widely in Sussex and further afield.

Ensemble Reza was formed in 2017 and is based in Mid Sussex. The core of the group is a string sextet (2 violins, 2 violas and 2 cellos). These musicians have performed worldwide with globally renowned orchestras and ensembles. The group puts on family concerts, school tours as well as evening and lunchtime recitals. It also has an outstanding education programme and a ground-breaking community programme including a community orchestra for all ages and abilities.

**Artists Website

Thanks to Stephen Carroll-Turner for organising the Brighton Chamber Ensemble rehearsals and to Sarah Carvalho-Dubost for organising the Ensemble Reza rehearsals. Thanks also to Sam Brown and Timea Gazdag. Their invaluable advice during rehearsals of “Walking in Beauty” contributed greatly to this piece achieving its final form. I am grateful to Geoff Hands for allowing me to use his beautiful painting for the CD cover and to Colin Attwell for his care and patience during the recording sessions. Finally, thank you to Amelia Mills and Kay Sharp for proofreading the booklet notes.

**Composers Website



Here is an excellent disc of the attractive and intelligent music by the English South Coast composer Barry Mills (born 1949). Most of Mills’s music has been written especially for performing friends, and there is a welcome immediacy of expression in his music, as well as an intelligent creative mind that conceived it, that reinforce the essential communicative nature of his art.

One must applaud both the natural impetus that lies behind his ideas as well as his directness of expression. Mills is clearly a genuinely gifted composer, one who quietly ploughs his own furrow which produces – as these and other works readily demonstrate – music that is intriguing and well worth exploring by listeners and professional musicians.

Volume 7, Portraits, is chamber music that mostly occupies the disc. These are almost all recent works occupying shorter time-scales: the String Quartet of 1921 is a most endearing composition, and even in the very brief (2’44”) Sea Movements for solo piano – most musically captured by Rachel Fryer -the composer’s command of quite short time-spans reveals his mastery as it does in the larger-scaled works elsewhere.

The recording quality, as one would expect from this source, is first-class in all respects and those looking for worthwhile music slightly to one side of most contemporary writing, eminently sane and sensibly composed by a genuine composer, would be well satisfied by investigating this new disc.

Robert Matthew-Walker


BMS Review

The first of these two CDs, Portraits contains seven chamber works. The second, Caledonia, offers four works for orchestra.

Portraits presents two Trios, Oboe, Cello & Piano, then Clarinet, Viola and Piano, both performed eloquently by members of the Brighton Chamber Ensemble. The first offers a Theme and Variations followed by four pictorial movements including Dancing Raindrops or The Wind that came from Nowhere. The use of rhythm and instrumentation is graphic in its impact. Some of the music is for all three instruments but there are duos and sections of piano solo too. The result suggested a kind of musical pointillism.

The second Trio in four movements is more abstract although the third movement, In Memoriam Glen Capra is emotionally powerful. Glen Capra (1968 – 2019) was a Canadian-born pianist and chamber musician who settled in Sussex. Mills’ chamber music style warmly embraces traditional scalar and arpeggio writing.

The string players of Ensemble Reza perform both the String Sextet which is transparently scored. Both this and the ‘String Quartet’ are abstract though fully tonal. The final movement of the Quartet surprises when,, after three abstract movements, we enjoy variations on a folksy dance tune.

Pianist Rachel Fryer performs two pictorial pieces, the first in three movements, Giraffes. I certainly got the idea behind Cherry Blossom.

I particularly enjoyed the three songs at the end, two settings of poems by Lord Byron and one by Henry King (1592 – 1669). With the beautifully delicate soprano singing of Timea Gazdag accompanied on lute by Sam Brown, Barry Mills achieves a convincing marriage between modernity and early music. A bit like Peter Warlock perhaps?

Review by Alan Cooper.