AMN Reviews: Adam Roberts – Bell Threads [New Focus Recordings fcr312]

Strings are the predominant voice on Bell Threads, an album of composer Adam Roberts’ chamber music for solo, duo, trio and quartet. The title work, a piece for solo viola performed here by Hannah Levinson, contains the sliding between pitches, microtonal dissonances, contrasting upper and lower registers, and use of harmonics that typifies Roberts’ writing for strings. Levinson is joined by violinist Maya Bennardo on Shift Differential, a symmetrical work in three parts whose opening and closing sections feature raga-like phrasing built on stressed tones and microtonal sliding. In between is a section for the two to weave a texture of rapidly intertwining lines. Levinson and Bennardo also perform the two-part duet Diptych. Part I consists of drone tones and undulating lines with slight deviations above and below pitch, overlaid with pressure bowing; Part II includes microtonal near-unisons leavened by a more conventionally modernist-sounding counterpoint. The solo harp piece Rounds, performed by Hannah Lash, also relies on counterpoint, but of a rhythmic kind; rapidly plucked rhythms are set out against slower rhythms for a richly layered effect. The kaleidoscopic trio work Happy/Angry Music, for piano, double bass and percussion (performed by Bearthoven), plays with texture and changing time signatures and throws much of the melodic work to the bass; while the Oboe Quartet is a classically structured work written to complement the Mozart oboe quartet. Roberts’ quartet, performed by oboist Erik Behr and members of the JACK Quartet, represents an updating of the tradition, with generous use of bent tones, dissonances and extended techniques for both oboe and strings

Daniel Barbiero

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