Anderson’s initial musical training was conventional serialism,
but enthusiasm for the music of John Cage and the influence
of Robert Ashley and Terry Riley led her to explore different
paths. In the late 1970s she was experimenting with conceptualism
and with text sounds. But in the 1980s she started writing music
which was essentially tonal, often of great beauty and generally
for chamber music forces.
a certain extent, Anderson’s music belies its apparent simplicity
as her preferred method of construction is collage; her preferred
form is a swale, a term that she invented herself. Swale is a term for a meadow or marsh where many plants grow together
side by side; for Anderson this extends to the musical form
where diverse musical ideas and styles can live side by side.
in these pieces, different themes and styles occur without any
linear development, in fact there is no apparent development
at all. This apparent simplicity is easy to dismiss; at any
point in the piece the music is relatively conventional and
conservative, but the Anderson’s intentions are to challenge
the listener via the varied sequences of musical types. These
sequences are rarely abrupt, Anderson creates quite a smooth,
rather coherent whole.
first two Swales on the disc ’March Swale’ and ‘Pennyroyal Swale’
both came across to me with strong echoes of English string
music (the Trevor Duncan’s Little Suite which gave rise to the theme
tune for Dr. Finlay’s
Casebook sprang to mind) alongside more American echoes
like Copland. These first two are written for just string quartet
and are here neatly and crisply played by the Rubio String Quartet,
which shoulders the bulk of the work on the disc.
Mexico Swale’ uses a trio drawn from the Rubio String Quartet
alongside flute and percussion. Here the textures are spare
with evocative flute melodies and haunting percussion effects.
first three Swales are followed by a vocal piece, a setting
for soprano and ensemble of texts by Hans Christian Andersen
and Anthony Calabrese. The piece opens with Andersen’s story
of an angel of God coming down from heaven each time a child
dies. This ends with a lovely wordless cantilena whose extreme
tessitura rather taxes the otherwise excellent Jessica Marsten.
The second half of the piece sets the Calabrese poem, a child-like
piece on the same themes as the Andersen. Here Anderson’s orchestration
is lovely, but I am afraid that I found the poem’s subject matter
rather sentimental and the words often bathetic.
the following two Swales, ‘January Swale’ is notable for the
rather tougher feeling of its opening. And the disc finishes
with Anderson’s piano concerto which is written for piano and
six instruments (string quartet, bass and percussion). At 13
minutes long it is longer than any of the Swales on the disc,
but quite short for a concerto. An attractive work, in character
and construction it is very similar to Anderson’s other work
on this disc. It is more than a concertante piece, the piano
first amongst equals, rather than the 19th century
idea of a concerto as dialogue or argument.
is well served by her performers. The Rubio String Quartet,
some of whose players appear on every track, play with admirably
crisp rhythms and all the players respond to Anderson’s melodic
you respond to Anderson’s music will depend on how receptive
you are to Anderson’s different way of constructing pieces.
I must confess that, for me, her collage effects did not always
work and that I found it difficult to get beyond the apparent
simplicity of her material. But this is essential listening
for anyone interested in the many different classical musics
which have sprung up in the last 50 years.
also review by Rob Barnett