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Gerald BARRY (b.1952)
In The Asylum (2000) [11’26]
James CLARKE (b.1957)

Piano Trio (2001) [7’02]
Etude for solo piano (1996) [1’26]
Independence: Part1 for solo cello (1998) [6’08]
Island- for solo piano (1999) [9’59]
Isolation- for solo violin (1997) [8’49]
Michael FINNISSY (b.1946)

In Stiller Nacht [8’47]
Necessary and More Detailed Thinking [1’42]
Independence Quadrilles [7’03]
Trio Fibonacci: André Ristic (piano), Julie-Anne Derome (violin), Gabriel Prynn (cello)
rec. Potton Hall, Suffolk, 15-17 September 2004. DDD
NMC D107 [63’46]

The Guardian’s contemporary music guru Andrew Clements was rather dismissive of this new NMC offering, finding ‘nothing to give the disc real focus or substance’. He did concede that the pieces were possibly chosen for maximum contrast, which is exactly how I see it. Looked at from this standpoint, there’s actually quite a lot to enjoy.

Admittedly the music of Gerald Barry does infuriate some listeners and unlike the other composers featured here, he refuses to offer any sort of explanation or thoughts on the creative process behind his trio, enigmatically entitled In the Asylum. Typical of Barry, his liner note is simply a cryptic one-line ‘clue’, which goes ‘In The Asylum the composer is writing three pieces: The Rung; The Potent Rug; Wig of Flanders’. That’s your lot and you can make of it what you will, though I wouldn’t particularly try relating it to the musical sounds that come out of the speakers! I suppose it’s Barry in playful mood, toying with convention and rather imitating his countryman Samuel Beckett, who famously refused to offer any ‘meaning’ for his works. The piece isn’t that outrageous, though it does explore, as do other works of Barry’s, a wide variety of instrumental texture, even in this limited medium. After a relatively slow start, the harmonic language grows denser and more adventurous, with some interesting interplay between the three instruments. It is possible to discern the differing sections and to define a ‘structure’, but ultimately it’s best to let this short piece wash over you a few times. The performance helps, being extremely assured in all departments.

I have to admit to finding the James Clarke Trio more interesting. It displays greater range, both emotional and in instrumental terms, though I wonder if Clarke was influenced by Schnittke - the tolling bell sounds from the upper piano register remind me of his Piano Quintet. The many and varied string techniques employed give the work an intentionally uncomfortable edge, but I found much of the writing very beautiful and evocative.

Of the other Clarke works recorded here, all of which are for solo instrument, I responded most to Island, where the piano’s outer reaches are explored with real imagination, even virtuosity.

The remainder of the disc is taken up with works by Finnissy. His very personal take on Brahms’s German folksong arrangements, In Stiller Nacht, was written for the Bekova Sisters. Indeed, Finnissy’s note refers to it as ‘possibly a derangement’ of Brahms, with ghostly echoes of the composer emerging through a Schoenbergian kaleidoscope of dense harmony and texture. The Independence Quadrilles retain some of their dance origins, but essentially Finnissy does the same thing here, the resulting piece becoming a sort of danse-macabre where the skeletal remains of the originals are treated to elaborately ambiguous tonal reworkings.

There are some interesting items here, a few of which will require more effort than others, but the performances and recording do them full justice so if you’re up for a dose of challenging chamber music, this could be for you.

Tony Haywood



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