VA: Digital Discoveries 3: Joyrider (Recordings from the British Music Collection) [NMC DL3003]
Joyrider is the third installment of an eight volume series made up of contemporary British art music recorded during the last decade. The six compositions brought together in this volume, all of which are held in the British Music Collection archive, represent an eclectic sample of recent work from five composers.
Three of the pieces are for solo piano, given fine performances here by Jonathan Powell. The restless Nevermore and the darker, impressionistic Baracarolla, were composed by Powell, while Joyrider, a frenetic, discontinuous work by Geoff Hannan, crafts pianistic drama out of broken phrases and virtuosic flourishes. Powell’s interpretations bring out the specific character of each piece, individuating them clearly for the listener.
Evelyn Ficarra’s Submarine Revisited is a haunting sound collage inspired by the stealthy, and ultimately precarious, mode of existence peculiar to underwater sailors and their ships. The work draws on sound sources of a kind that give it the feel of a fictional documentary narrating and recreating events situated in an ambiguously remembered past.
The release’s highlights are two compositions by Bryn Harrison and James Saunders, both of which are performed by cellist Anton Lukoszevieze’s ensemble Apartment House. Harrison’s Four Parts to Center for electric guitar, violin, clarinet and cello develops through the varied repetition of short phrases and slow, microtonal glissandi. Much of the piece seems to takes place within a limited span of intervals and a similarly tight range of dynamics; the clustering and overlap of pitches and timbres is brought out nicely in the ensemble’s close playing. While the sound presents a surface always in flux, a cyclical or quasi-cyclical underlying structure makes itself felt throughout.
With Saunders’ #160304-[r], a modular work for clarinet, violin and cello, Apartment House gives another subtly engrossing performance. The piece’s soundworld is largely to be found in the thin atmosphere of the instruments’ extreme upper registers. As with Harrison’s piece, the dynamics are predominantly quiet, which brings out an essential sonic ethereality as well as the timbral enigma at the heart of the work. Given the combination of instruments and the techniques used—the strings, for example, often play high harmonics—it can often be difficult to tell which instrument is sounding at any given time. Saunders’ use of silences between sounds serves to structure the work by establishing relationships based on similarities and differences of pitch, duration and dynamics.
A stimulating collection indeed.