CD reviews: Finnissy and Susman

[With apologies: these have been sitting in my drafts folder for a long time.]

Darragh Morgan and Mary Dullea’s recording of music for music for violin and piano by Michael Finnissy is another addition to Métier’s long-running Finnissy series. Six pieces are featured, from the 30-second Jive to the 21-minute Violin Sonata (written for Morgan in 2007). Apart from Mississippi Hornpipes of 1982, all the pieces were composed in the 00s. This is the complete works for violin and piano (so solo violin works like All the trees they are so high (1977), or Ének (1990) aren’t included here), and in Amphithéâtre des Sciences Mortes and Molly House it includes pieces for flexible or alternative forces. On three tracks Finnissy himself also plays as a second keyboardist.

In his sleevenote, Morgan describes Mississippi Hornpipes as ‘notoriously difficult’, and its technical challenges are obvious to hear. Finnissy describes it as a ‘cut-up’ of American fiddle tunes, and it audibly prefigures his approach in later, longer works such as Folklore and North American Spirituals (indeed, lots of The History of Photography in Sound). The difficulties aren’t limited to getting through the notes though; the multilayered characteristics of each different folk transcription have to be brought out too – in both their unity and their diversity. Morgan and Dullea do a superb job with razor-sharp articulation and a watchful ear against needlessly highlighting the tunes when they do peep through.

The Violin Sonata is a representative of what I think is a relatively recent development in Finnissy’s music (maybe I’m wrong?) of building not so much from a transcription, or even transdialection of an existing (folk or art) source, but extrapolating outwards from it. So Finnissy’s piece exists in a sort of horizontal relationship to its predecessor, rather than a vertical one (although in truth both are diagonal to an extent). The Grieg Quintettsatz (also released on Métier) comes most directly to mind as a comparison. I like it anyway. It has that surreal, hallucinatory quality of much of Finnissy’s music, in which reality is glimpsed through a rain-soaked windscreen. Métier have released some landmark recordings of Finnissy’s music in the past, and this is a worthy addition.

OCTET‘s debut album, released on belarca last June, is a portrait of music by its artistic director, William Susman. There’s an obvious debt to Glassworks-era Philip Glass, but the music is deliciously more mellifluous than that; the first movement of Camille has a Stereolab-like groove, Even in the Dark has a post-midnight languor. Piano Concerto doesn’t do much for me as a concerto, but it has other good ideas to make up for it. The line-up of OCTET is basically stripped-down big band, and the timbres of sax, trumpet, trombone, and bass, as well as a drum kit playing typical drum patterns, do a lot of work in defining the music’s particular character. An album that falls between several stools – classical minimalism, cool jazz, avant pop – but makes a comfortable place to sit nevertheless.


New Music – New Ireland

My review of Darragh Morgan and Mary Dullea playing new Irish music for violin and piano is now online at Musical Pointers:

The first of two concerts of new Irish music for violin and piano brought the leading duo in the field, Darragh Morgan and Mary Dullea, to King’s Place for a selection of works from the more experimental and modernist fringes.

Apart from Gerald Barry’s 1998 the works were mostly short, and they made a varying impression. Frank Corcoran again convinced me that he is a composer who deserves to be better known in this country. Something about his brambly music reminds me of Maderna – not so much in its style, but in its absolute assurance in teasing lyrical forms from its knotty exterior. Quasi una preludio was precisely poised and, even with the introduction of a sean-nós melody at the end, never watered down its acid bite.

Read more here.

New Irish music at King’s Place

This Monday Darragh Morgan and Mary Dullea bring a concert of contemporary Irish works for violin and piano to King’s Place. It’s the first of two violin and piano concerts devoted to new Irish music at the venue (the second, by Ioana Petcu-Colan and Michael McHale, is on 16 November) and promises a wide stylistic mix from the serial to the experimental. As well as Gerald Barry‘s ‘feverish stream of consciousness’ 1998, the concert includes world premières by Frank Corcoran, Raymond Deane and Andrew Hamilton, and recent pieces by Benjamin Dwyer, John McLachlan and Jennifer Walshe.
Gerald Barry 1998 ca’20
Raymond Deane New Work ca’5 world premiere
Benjamin Dwyer Movimientos 1 ca’6 UK premiere
John McLachlan Ghost Machine ca’6 UK premiere
Andrew Hamilton violin/piano ca’11 World premiere
Jennifer Walshe Theme from ca’8
Frank Corcoran Quasi Un Preludio (solo violin) ca’2 world premiere

More details and booking info here.

Tomorrow: Paul Whitty: thirty-nine pages

Darragh Morgan – violin

Mary Dullea – piano

Paul Whitty

Thursday 24 September 2009, 7pm
CD launch

Paul Whitty’s thirty-nine pages filters each page of Cesar Franck’s Sonata for violin and piano in A Major, re-reading and re-organising Francks’ materials.

Darragh Morgan and Mary Dullea perform both works back to back.

Schott Music
48 Great Marlborough Street
Soho, London W1F 7BB

nearest tube Oxford Circus

Tickets on door £8/£5 (concs)

Read my review of the Morgan and Dullea’s recording of thirty-nine pages here.

Paul Whitty: thirty-nine pages

My review of this (recommended) CD is now online:

For thirty-nine pages Paul Whitty has treated each individual page of the Henle Urtext edition of Franck’s A major Violin Sonata, arranging them into 38 short movements (two treat two pages each, and one treats all 39 pages together). Some of his interventions are more oblique than others (there are very few exact quotations) but, even if it’s rarely possible to hear the original source material, it is often possible to infer traces of nineteenth-century rhetoric through Whitty’s bleached re-readings.

Continue reading here.

Couple of live reviews

Some brief words on Darragh Morgan and Mary Dullea at Bauer and Hieber:

They’re not terribly well-advertised, but the occasional recitals held at Bauer and Hieber (what used to be Schott’s) are well worth looking out for. The basement recital room is tiny, but there’s always a chance of catching a rarity or two.

I turned up a little late, so missed the beginning of James Weeks’s piece. This was a double shame, as what I did hear sounded ravishing. In unfolding an extremely sparse series of rocking intervals between the two instruments it recalled Feldman but – and this seems like an odd thing to say about Feldman’s music – with somehow less stodge.

Read more here.

And something slightly more substantial on Vladimir Martynov’s Vita Nuova at the Festival Hall on Wednesday:

Vladimir Martynov belongs to a generation of post-Soviet composers (a group that includes Alexander Knaifel and Valentin Silvestrov) that feels unburdened by, or at least ambivalent towards, historical responsibility. The results can seem breathtakingly nonchalant to Western European sensibilities, but they can also be imaginative and fresh.

Read more here.

Recent listening

This week I have been mostly listening to Nono and Radulescu, and my ears have been getting a solid workout in long-form extended instrumental techniques.

That sort of thing is all very well – and Nono’s A Pierre at the RAM on Wednesday showed that it could be deeply moving – but there’s a danger of taking it all too seriously. So Mary Dullea‘s Warehouse recital last night came as a welcome pitstop for one approaching extended technique fatigue. There was plenty on show, but all of it from composers not afraid to lighten up a bit, whether Benedict Mason’s perversions of pianism or Stephen Montague’s carefree indulgence in ringing resonances. We got a two-minute teaser for a forthcoming Jennifer Walshe piece (which involves lots of Kill Bill-style lightning punches to the piano body) and some typically chunky modernism from Pawel Szymanski. But the standout was Rolf Hind’s Towers of Silence, a work in five continuous movements that tickles the piano’s full noise-making potential from the pedals to the keyboard lid. On paper it might recall Lachenmann, but it had a tremendous lightness of spirit – appropriately it draws its title from Farsi sky burial mounds – that come from an almost accidental approach to sonic exploration, in which new discoveries are made, tossed around a bit, and perhaps remembered again much later.

A Pierre on Wednesday night struck me as my favourite sort of Nono, building fantastically detailed, improbable structures from nothing but air and the slightest vibration. At his best, Nono does something with sound and its manipulation within memory that is very special, and A Pierre nailed it for me. Funnily, Omaggio à György Kurtág – longer and for twice as many players felt too lightweight, taken past the point of evaporation where A Pierre held itself between two states. Unfortunately, Noontides, by RAM composer Alexander Campkin, felt leaden and overwhelmed in such auspicious company.