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"
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
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.