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Plot in Fiction: Italian Music for ensemble
Enrico CORREGGIA (b.1933)

Già l’Eolia di Notte … (1985)
Luca FRANCESCONI (b.1956)

Viaggiatore Insonne (1983)
Giacinto SCELSI (1905-1988)

Kya (1959)
Ada GENTILE (b.1947)

In un Silenzio Ordinato (1985)
Dario MAGGI (b.1944)

Im finsteren Wald (1993)

Plot in Fiction (1986)
Alison Wells (soprano) Roger Heaton (clarinet)
Christopher Redgate (oboe and cor anglais)
Firebird Ensemble/ Barrie Webb
Recorded live in concert, St. Paul’s Hall, Huddersfield, June 1994-June 1997 DDD
Although formed in 1988 and despite regular appearances at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, the ensemble Firebird are still not as prominent as they deserve to be. They numbering some excellent players amidst their ranks including clarinettist Roger Heaton, oboist Christopher Redgate and conductor Barrie Webb. Mr Webb also happens to be a trombonist specialising in the contemporary repertoire for the instrument.

The booklet note mentions that the principal objective of the ensemble is to tackle new works alongside the more established repertoire of the last century. They have no special allegiance to any one school or stylistic genre. This disc was recorded over a period of three years in Huddersfield where the ensemble have a residency at the university. They offer six works by five Italian composers, ranging from Giacinto Scelsi, probably the best known name, to figures who are considerable less familiar.

The only composer represented twice is Milan-born Luca Francesconi, a former student of Stockhausen and one time assistant to Luciano Berio. His Viaggiatore Insonne, of 1986, sets the fleeting poem ‘Sleepless Traveller’ by Sandro Penna, a text rich in visual atmosphere. This is set with the instruction that the singer delivers the words in a non-operatic way, a manner the composer relates to baroque or pre-bel canto technique. Francesconi creates passages of considerable beauty here. There are soaring and notably lyrical instrumental lines that coalesce well with the voice of Alison Wells, who is careful to never over dominate. The textures can be complex yet at the same time gentle and transparent. By comparison, the work from which the disc takes its title, Plot in Fiction, of three years later, is a harder edged affair with a greater degree of textural density. It has a solo part of stamina-sapping virtuosity, admirably played by Christopher Redgate. The key here is to find the "plot" through the "fiction", or as the composer puts it, the narrative thread that runs through the complexity and intricacy of a "forest of daily symbols".

Enrico Correggia takes as the premise for his work Già l’Eolia di Notte, the principle of Yin and Yan, or masculine and feminine. The strings assume the role of the former in astringent, melodically deprived material whilst the wind carry the greater melodic interest. An attempt at integration by the strings sees them adopt a midway point between the two initial extremes. What results is a work of interesting shifting textures, colours and textural imagination.

Ada Gentile has the distinction of being the only female composer represented. The title In un Silenzio Ordinato, gives a clue as to the low dynamic levels that figure throughout much of the work. It’s a curiously satisfying piece, full of scurrying, restless energy that ultimately works itself out and fades away to nothing.

Alison Wells is at the forefront in Dario Maggi’s Im finsteren Wald, a ten-minute cantata to a dark text by Georg Trakl, scored for soprano, bass clarinet, marimba and piano. Wells once again is a highly convincing soloist although I was perhaps less convinced by this work’s ability to sustain interest in the manner that some of the other works achieve.

In several ways Giacinto Scelsi is the odd one out amongst these composers, the obvious reason being that he is the only non-living composer amongst those featured. But musically he also ploughed very much his own path, coming to reject the use of melody in favour of gradually shifting changes of pitch, dynamic and timbre influenced by forms of eastern meditation and actually lending his work a noticeably eastern atmosphere. Kya, for clarinet and seven instruments, is representative of this later period of his career. What his work from this period does is to effectively take music back to its very barest constituent parts. It’s not easy listening but given the chance it does possess the ability to draw the listener into its very personal world.

This is a disc very much in the true Metier mould of challenging and probing our musical senses. It is however a disc that offers undoubted rewards upon repeated listening for those who allow themselves to become immersed in the "plot". The performances by Firebird are accomplished and it is to be hoped that we hear more from them in recordings to come.

Christopher Thomas.

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