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Alwynne PRITCHARD (1968)
Spring (1996)
Piano Quintet: Barbara Allen (2000)
Nostos Ou Topos (2000)
Matrix (2001)
Der Zwerg (1998)
Kit (1999)
Der Glücklose Engel (1999)
Invisible Cities (1999)
Recorded in the Djanogly Concert Hall, Nottingham University, July 1998 (Spring); Big School at Christ’s Hospital, Horsham, April 2000 (Invisible Cities) August 2000 (Der Zwerg, Kit, Piano Quintet and Der Glücklose Hand) October 2000 (Nostos Ou Topos) Holy Trinity Church, Weston, Herts. June 2001 (Matrix). DDD
METIER MSV CD92040 [73:47]


It is unfortunate that to the majority of people Alwynne Pritchard is likely to be better known for her occasional presentation of Radio Three’s Saturday night "Hear and Now" programme than for her own music. The fact that her work is particularly challenging in itself, only serves to compound the problem. So, to the rescue (and not for the first time) comes the intrepid Metier label. Metier ventures where other labels dare not tread – promoter of composers who would otherwise face potential marginalization or even blacklisting as a result of their "experimentalist" tag.

Pritchard’s music challenges, quite deliberately so, on a number of levels. Not least of these is her involvement of both performer and listener in the creative process. The works given here can be seen as sound sculptures, or installations, set within a landscape in which the listener navigates and finds their own way through the silences that often separate the strands of musical material, a use of silence that is both deft and vital to the music’s conception. In a similar way the performer plays a significant part in the interpretative or architectural elements of the work, the composer providing options as to how the performer should proceed through the piece.

This concept is perhaps most obvious in Nostos Ou Topos, for solo guitar, in which the performance is not considered complete until the soloist has completed two versions of the material. In Matrix, for solo electric violin, undoubtedly one of the most challenging works for the listener and also, along with Invisible Cities, the longest at over thirteen and a half minutes, Pritchard provides the performer with eight "spokes" of musical material resulting in a multitude of possible permutations in performance. Kit, is a further extension of similar principles, composed with performance by children in mind, and comprising a "kit" of almost entirely written instructions other than a grid of pitches from which the performer can select. Proof here also that Pritchard has a sense of humour…. her manic recitation of the Spanish instructions for her food processor is not to be missed!

Although pianist Ian Pace, in his interesting and detailed booklet interview with the composer, comments that Pritchard has a tendency to reinvent herself with every piece, I cannot say that I entirely agree with his assertion. A number of the works on this disc explore differing facets of basically similar organisational ideas although there are certainly striking exceptions. Spring, an appropriate choice to open the CD, is a fleeting yet exuberant fiftieth birthday piece for Michael Finnissy, virtuosic and calling for a technique from the solo pianist that no doubt owes part of its inspiration to Finnissy’s own formidable ability on the instrument. In stark contrast, Piano Quintet: Barbara Allen, still bears the characteristic fragmentation and use of space that is present in all of Pritchard’s work but combines this with a fragility that reflects the inspiration for the work, the death of twenty six children in the Silkstone Colliery disaster of 1838.

It should be added that in addition to Ian Pace’s aforementioned interview with the composer he also gives stunning performances of both Spring and the more weighty Invisible Cities.

Certainly not a disc for the unadventurous then, but for those who are prepared to be challenged Alwynne Pritchard’s music can be both rewarding and thought provoking.

Christopher Thomas


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