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London Sinfonietta

The Jerwood Series: Volume 1
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. 19 February 2005 (Davies); 10 May 2003 (MacRae), Queen Elizabeth Hall, London. DDD
See also reviews of Volumes 1 and 2 by Dominy Clements

This second release on the London Sinfonietta’s own label seems to have been an eternity in coming. The first disc (released in 2004) centred on short pieces written to celebrate the 2002 fiftieth birthday celebrations of Oliver Knussen review. The accent in this latest release, which has been issued simultaneously with the second volume in a projected series of six, is the younger generation of British composers as supported by the Jerwood Charitable Foundation.

Tansy Davies has worked previously with the London Sinfonietta in recent years as well as producing works for The Composers Ensemble, Brunel Ensemble and the London Symphony Orchestra. Although having studied with Simon Bainbridge and Simon Holt, Davies has, to her credit, forged her own path in terms of an adventurous language. Her music draws as much influence from techno and popular culture as it does from the conventional classical world.

The composer’s own description of neon as a series of "boxes built to interlock with each other in numerous ways" may not sound particularly ground-breaking as a structural device, but it is in the sound-world Davies creates that she finds her true voice and originality. The composer talks of each ‘box’ having its own "pattern or groove" and although percussive rhythm certainly plays a major part there is a clear sense of musics colliding as the players interlock the various boxes in the manner of their choosing. Clattering, unpitched percussive sounds mix with ethnic, earthy winds often dominated by the distinctive timbre of the bass clarinet. Strings are used as much for their percussive characteristics as their more conventional role with the players of the London Sinfonietta responding with typically consummate coolness, the playing never overstated and displaying an authority that comes only from total absorption, ease and familiarity with their repertoire.

Scottish-born Stuart MacRae’s reputation was enhanced considerably by the performance of his Violin Concerto at the 2001 Promenade Concerts. At the time he was only twenty five, having made his even earlier mark as a finalist in the 1996 Lloyd’s Bank Young Composers Workshop at the tender age of twenty.

Interact is a trumpet concerto in all but name, or perhaps more accurately a concerto for trumpet and brass in that at various stages the other members of the brass section take their place in the fray, as does the ensemble generally. Cast in two roughly equal movements of around ten minutes each, the "interaction" of the title involves the trumpet, horn and trombone of the ensemble moving around the group to take up various solo positions. This approach is not unlike that of MacRae’s fellow Scot, Thea Musgrave utilised to great effect in works such as her Clarinet Concerto of the 1960s.

Not surprisingly the music that results places demands on the members of the brass section that are almost as great as those placed on the soloist himself, here played with stunning dexterity by John Wallace.

The work’s two movements explore vastly differing musical worlds. The first, marked Presto, pits the various brass players against each other in a highly rhythmic, at times almost manic display of soloistic one-upmanship in which the players often wrestle and duel with each other in complex patterns of interaction. In contrast the second movement leaves the virtuosic games of the first behind as the now largely muted solo trumpet weaves a long lyrical, melodic line over a slowly changing backdrop into which have retreated the members of the brass section that were prominent in the first. Despite its often complex scenarios MacRae’s striking musical argument is realised with impressive control and clarity of thought. One senses that here is a composer we are likely to hear a good deal more of in the coming years.

A promising start then to a potentially exciting series of discs that will hopefully grow to reflect the impressive diversity of developing talent amongst a new and emerging generation of British composers.

Christopher Thomas




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