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Multiplicities: recent music for solo flute performed by Nancy Ruffer
Brian FERNEYHOUGH (b. 1943)


Jason ECKARDT (b. 1971)


Henry COWELL (1897-1965)

The Universal Flute

James DILLON (b. 1950)

Sgothan (1984)


Caught Breath of Time

Michael FINNISY (b. 1946)

Ulpirra (1982-3)
Michael PARKIN

Elegy (1984)
Simon HOLT(b. 1958)

Maïastra (1981)
Nancy Ruffer, flute
Recorded at Holy Trinity Church, Weston, Hertfordshire, 5th April and 5th June 2001.
METIER MSV CD92063 [64.56]


An ambitious survey of late twentieth century pieces for solo flute, this disc represents my second recent encounter with top American flautist Nancy Ruffer. As with her contribution to the outstanding CD of John Hawkins' music on Meridian, she again gives the distinct impression that she could soon attain the status of a Jeffrey Khaner or Jennifer Stinton. I think she has succeeded very well in putting together a diverse programme of the challenging and the more accessible, while including several works commissioned by or dedicated to her.

Brian Ferneyhough is something of a bête-noir in some musical circles and often pigeonholed with the equally misunderstood Birtwistle but his short(ish) Superscriptio is almost charming and reminded me, among other things, of Jan Garbarek's early improvisations on Scandinavian wood flute (Silje?). Despite hardly being easy listening, not a great deal of musical barbed wire is in evidence anyway! Jason Eckardt's "title track" continues the experimental jazz parallel, but a little more conventional than Ferneyhough and certainly more reminiscent of Messiaen than Birtwistle - natural rhythms and harmonies seem to loom large in this piece. Henry Cowell is one of my favourite American composers and never seems to be afforded his real, deserved significance. Here, The Universal Flute shows him in the mode in which he most influenced Lou Harrison and Hovhaness, with a beautiful Japanese shakuhachi tune. Wonderful!

James Dillon's Sgothan is probably the least immediately approachable piece on the disc, complex and of an extended duration. The booklet notes mention the composer's fascination with Indian music and I would concur that this is certainly not a Short ride in a Fast Machine! The more concise Diffraction follows later, less convoluted but rather more abrasive. Chris Dench's intervening work provides some (relatively) light relief with his ten minute piece again echoing Garbarek's, and before him Don Cherry's interest in shamanic influences, the difference being a certain introspection here replaced in the "jazz" composers' work by hypnotic rhythms.

The last Metier CD I reviewed was Michael Finnissy's excellent Lost Lands. Here the inspiration is Australian indigenous culture rather than the Balkans or Kurdistan but the effect is equally gratifying. I do find some of this composer's piano music rather daunting but his works for other instruments, either solo or in chamber ensemble, come across, as in this case, as rather haunting and actually quite accessible for those willing to listen. Ulpirra is incredibly atmospheric and matches the inspirations of the great Antipodean composers (e.g. Sculthorpe) in its evocation of the mystery and magic of the interior. Michael Parkin's Elegy also draws on tribal music, this time that of African pygmies, and again to wonderful effect. Meditative but also bluesy, this piece, along with the Cowell, represents the most accessible and overtly attractive music here, and Ruffer's occasional vocalisations merely enhance the real sense of being somewhere far away. Superb stuff!

Simon Holt's closing Maïastra is named in deference to a large, mythical bird and a Brancusi sculpture of similar provenance. It is a long piece, more immediate than the Dillon but still a rather involved listen, a suitable summation of what has gone before but not one of the real highlights. This disc will no doubt be essential listening for flautists engaged with the contemporary music scene. I loved the Cowell, Parkin and Finnissy pieces but would not expect to revisit the others, good though they are, on a regular basis. The performances are as authoritative as it gets!

Neil Horner


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