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London Sinfonietta

Tansy DAVIES (b.1973) neon (2004) [10: 19]
Stuart MACRAE (b.1976) Interact (2003) [21: 34]
John Wallace (trumpet)
London Sinfonietta/David Porcelijn; H.K. Gruber
rec. BBC Radio live recordings, Queen Elizabeth Hall, South Bank Centre, London, 19 February 2005 (neon); 10 May 2003 (Interact)

Morgan HAYES (b.1973) Dark Room (2002/3) [12: 23]
Jonny GREENWOOD (b.1971) smear (2004, rev. 2005) [9: 57]
Dai FUJIKURA (b.1977) Fifth Station (2003) [15: 28]
Louise Hopkins (cello)
Valérie Hartmann-Claverie; Bruno Perrault (ondes martenots)
London Sinfonietta/Martyn Brabbins
rec. BBC Radio live recordings, Queen Elizabeth Hall, South Bank Centre London, 14 February 2004 (Dark Room; Fifth Station), Royal Festival Hall, South Bank Centre, London, 27 March 2005 (smear).

See also review of Volume 1 by Chris Thomas

While these CDs are available separately I have chosen to review them together, as potential purchasers can get a discount when ordering both from the London Sinfonietta website . I’m not sure which marketing genius came up with the idea of issuing them separately in the first place – maybe we’re still not grown up enough to take a full seventy minutes of brand new music one disc. Whatever, the music presented here is not particularly ‘difficult’ as one might expect in this post-post-post-modern age of fun and (con)fusion. It will be a challenge to the uninitiated however, and often such work is better experienced live, with the spectacle of exotic instruments, mobile musicians and on (or off)-stage action in contemporary music concerts. These CDs won’t appeal to everyone, but then, neither does Beethoven - whom my mother doesn’t like ‘shouting’ at her.

Tansy Daviesneon is an enjoyably rhythmic romp. The composer’s notes state that it consists of boxes containing a ‘pattern or groove: some bright and shiny, others dark and grimy.’ These boxes can be put together in numerous ways, and the result is elemental and dance-like. The percussion is important of course, but I like the pairings of instruments and sparely minimalistic cycles of melodic development - if you can call it that – there are no ‘tunes’ as such.

Less immediately appealing is Interact by Stuart MacRae, which is a trumpet concerto. In two movements, the first is described as being a kind of ‘game’ – something which always makes me suspicious, but in fact the ensemble’s brass players have to move around the stage in a carefully constructed choreography, so the connection with the title is apt and clear, though less so on a CD than in a live performance. The impression is one of angular jousting between the soloist and ensemble - atonal melodic meandering with one or two very Andriessen -sounding chords thrown in. The second movement is slower, ‘a measured sequence of friezes’ linked by a melodic thread. I can see where the composer is coming from, and possibly where he might end up, but aside from some energetic Berio-esque rhythmic tumbling, some Kagel-esque brass duelling and some atmospheric moments here and there I’m afraid this piece does very little for me.

Moving on to the second CD we start with Dark Room by Morgan Hayes, which is a ‘mini clarinet concerto’. The piece is intense and gritty, with extremes of range, jazzy pizzicato bass, rattlesnake percussion and a soaring solo. There is a great deal going on here, and the final section, in which the soloist leaves the stage - accompanied by the oboe - left me wanting more.

Jonny Greenwood’s smear has the interesting colouration of two Ondes Martenots, whose ghostly appearance at the opening of the piece dismisses the ghost of Messiaen in an instant. The composer is passionate about these rarely heard instruments, and uses them to great effect. The mellow electronic notes initially glide thought the ensemble expressively, emerging into playful cadenza which fully explores the dynamic range of the instruments. The final section is more impressionistic, and the ghost of Messiaen gets to peek around the corner after all. Expressive glissandi, leaning quarter-tones and rich string chords play us out - lovely stuff, though I do wonder what Radiohead fans will make of it - Greenwood is a founding member of the band.


Fifth Station by Dai Fujikura has a spatial aspect, with only two instruments on the stage – the rest of the players being placed in the auditorium. The aspect of hearing different versions of the piece depending on where you sit in the hall is one which the composer enjoys greatly, so with this recording you are of course only getting one ‘take’. The person who was sitting next to the trombone will have a different experience - and opinion - to the one sitting next to (say) the bass clarinet. There is an important and impressive part for the solo cello, and there is also a great deal of colourful instrumental interaction and shifts in perspective, with the sense of distance between players giving some strange and interesting effects.

It almost goes without saying that the London Sinfonietta’s performances are outstanding, and that the BBC recordings are first class. There are one or two occasional consumptives in the audience, but nothing which will have hardened listeners running for cover. Each piece has a freshly-minted quality, and for those of you who want to be up-to-date with recent compositional work these issues are a must.

Dominy Clements



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