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Bright Future: More works for young and amateur musicians from Chamber Music 2000
Joe CUTLER

Jiggadybox

Nicola LEFANU (b. 1947)

Miniature and Canon

Martin BUTLER

Spring Rounds (1998)
Joseph PHIBBS (b. 1974)

Trio Semplice

Rachel STOTT

Serendipity and Household Objects Ė 1st movement
Judith BINGHAM (b. 1952)

The Mystery of Boranup

David SAWER

Riddle (2001)
Peter SCULTHORPE (b. 1929)

From the River

Victor STEINHARDT

Piano Quartet Ė 1st movement

Wendy HISCOCKS

Vibrancy

Graham FITKIN (b. 1963)

MacGuffin

Edward Dudley HUGHES (b. 1968)

Secret Sky

Michael FINNISSY

Bright Future Ignoring Dark Past

Adam GORB

Bittersweet

Peter COPLEY

Miniature Overture

Cecilia McDOWALL (b. 1951)

A Draught of Fishes

Geoffrey POOLE

Look Behind You

The Schubert Ensemble
Recorded at Champs Hill, Pulborough, West Sussex on 13th, 20th and 21st November, 2002 DDD
NMC NMCD080 [56:40]
In 2002 I reviewed another NMC release, Spectrum 3, the third disc in a series devoted to piano music for young and amateur performers by composers with established or growing international reputations.

In the same vein, Bright Future is the follow up release to A White Room, a similar simultaneous project initiated by The Schubert Ensemble in 1998, inviting composers to write music for piano and single strings, the only premise being that the composers are true to their own stylistic language and that the pieces are capable of being played by young and amateur musicians.

Both projects have been unmitigated and admirable successes with fifty pieces having been written for The Schubert Ensemble within the last five years. Not surprisingly the pieces presented on Bright Future encompass a fairly broad stylistic range, albeit avoiding the densest atonality and like the Spectrum project, give an interesting and at times entertaining overview in miniature, effectively a series of musical snapshots, of the diversity on offer in the current contemporary music scene.

As you would expect a handful of pieces stand out from the crowd for either their imaginative inventive flair or ear-catching scoring. Joe Cutler is one of our most promising young talents and his entertaining Jiggadybox, a tongue in cheek invention by the "eighteenth century Swiss inventor, gambler and philosopher Rudolf Von Stengl", progresses from a static opening to a state of overheat as the musical contraption grows ever more wild and energetic. Rachel Stottís fleeting Serendipity and Household Objects, takes as its starting point the sounds obtainable from everyday household objects, a comb, cutlery, empty yoghurt pot etc. and transforms them into instrumental sound, setting a wide range of string effects against an appealing, vaguely medieval sounding melody on the piano. Judith Binghamís characteristically atmospheric The Mystery of Boranup, features an uncannily realistic string impersonation of the didgeridoo in her evocative picture of an ancient Australian forest whilst the first movement of Victor Steinhardtís Piano Quartet is one of the more demanding pieces on the performers, broadly triadic, melodically and rhythmically attractive, with a hint of Bartók thrown in for good measure. Graham Fitkinís contribution, MacGuffin, is somewhat more restrained than one might expect from this composer but offers much to enjoy in its familiar rhythmic patterns and straightforward melodic appeal. The circling, modally conceived harmonies of Edward Dudley Hughesís Secret Sky paint an effective tone poem in miniature, in sharp contrast to Michael Finnissyís Bright Future Ignoring Dark Past that immediately follows it, one of the tougher contributions in terms of language and a typically clever juxtaposition of a late nineteenth century song, "What shocking hard times" and two Methodist hymns, an ironic musical comment on the current and future state of British education. Cecilia McDowall was the featured composer at the 2002 Presteigne Festival and her unashamedly witty A Draught of Fishes (her fishes are clearly close relations of Schubertís trout!) is both gently entertaining and attractive on the ear.

Nicola Lefanuís Miniature and Canon, Martin Butlerís Spring Rounds, Peter Sculthorpeís From the River and Adam Gorbís Bittersweet are all well crafted, if not the most attention grabbing works on the disc and although there are a few slight disappointments elsewhere the seventeen miniatures generally manage to sustain musical interest pretty well through the fifty six minutes running time of the recording.

Indeed, in different ways all of the pieces on this disc have something to offer but what should matter most is that the "something" includes a sense of fun and reward for the young and amateur musicians who are hopefully likely to be performing them. These committed performances by The Schubert Ensemble should stand as a useful example to younger players in particular, of what can be achieved.

Christopher Thomas



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