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BORDERLANDS
Contemporary British Piano Trios
Camden REEVES (b.1974)

Starlight Squid (2001)
Paul MEALOR (b.1975)

Borderlands (2004)
John PICKARD (b.1963)

Piano Trio (1990)
Philip GRANGE (b.1956)

Piano Trio: Homage to Chagall (1995)
Chagall Trio (Nicoline Kraamwinkel (violin); Tim Gill (cello); Julian Rolton (piano))
rec. 7-8 August 2004, Cosmo Rodewald Hall, University of Manchester. DDD
CAMPION CAMEO 2053 [49:49]


The common thread binding this enterprising CD together is not so much the music itself as the relationship between teacher and pupil. Camden Reeves studied at the University of Exeter with Philip Grange whilst Paul Mealor was a childhood pupil of John Pickard before university studies with Nicola LeFanu in York and later, in Copenhagen with Hans Abrahamsen and Per Nørgård.

There are however fundamental stylistic comparisons that can be drawn, despite the fact that both Reeves and Mealor have clearly developed musical personalities outside those of their teachers. The more adventurous language of Reeves is closer to Grange than Mealor, whoís lyrical and impassioned music as demonstrated in Borderlands, could be thought of as a sophisticated extension of Pickardís strongly characterful, yet essentially tonal melodic and harmonic palette.

At the tender age of twenty two Camden Reeves was appointed Composer Fellow with the Halle Orchestra, a position which came to an end in 1998 although he still works in Manchester as AHRB Fellow in Creative and Performing Arts at Manchester University. A fascination with the natural characteristics of the squid, in particular the creatureís ability to alter its colour and physical shape, has resulted in several works that draw their inspiration from the sea creature. Amongst these are the simply titled Squid (a Halle commission of 1997) and the more alarming Vampire Squid from Hell of the same year, written for the chamber ensemble Psappha. The brief piano trio Starlight Squid, commenced in 1998 but not completed until 2001, takes as its basis the plainchant Ave Maris Stella (Hail Star of the Sea). Reeves creates a virtuosic single movement showpiece of just under seven minutes, using the plainchant to underpin the cascades of notes that initially spark from the piano before violin and cello become more extensively drawn into the musical fray. Itís a piece of high rhythmic energy that gives the performers little respite, the energy strongly replicated in the response of the Chagall Trio.

Paul Mealor draws his inspiration from the more conventional source of W. B. Yeats, a poet whose work has been close to Mealor for a number of years. The composer states that it is the "duality of Yeatsí poetic philosophy" that fires him, with Borderlands drawing on the poetís search for images of another world, images often marked by his involvement in spirituality, séances and other matters supernatural. Mealorís musical discourse progresses from an eerily disembodied opening to music of considerable dynamic intensity, expressing the Irish poetís duality in terms of the growth of this more lyrically potent material out of the relative simplicity of the opening. Mealor makes a powerful musical statement and one which whets the appetite for hearings of his orchestral works, amongst them pieces for the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Britten Sinfonia and Northern Sinfonia.

John Pickard, Mealorís early compositional mentor, has also made a significant contribution to the field of orchestral music including four symphonies and numerous high profile orchestral performances, including that of The Flight of Icarus at the 1996 Proms. Chamber music takes equal measure however and his four string quartets form a significant contribution to the genre. Pickardís own studies were initially with the late lamented William Mathias before further studies with Louis Andriessen in the Netherlands. Although fleeting, there are very occasional and intriguing glimpses of Mathias in Pickardís 1990 Piano Trio, written to a commission for the North Wales Music Festival. Formed in one continuous sixteen minute movement, the musicís pulse remains constant for the workís entire duration with Pickardís rigorous musical argument being deceptively clothed in a structure that whilst not wholly unconventional in its sonata like basis, is tailored to suit the composerís needs. The result is a work that is entirely engaging in its integrity and command of material.

The language of Philip Grange is possibly the most challenging of the composers represented although as with Pickard, Grange demonstrates convincing and audible musical argument within the four movement structure of his Homage to Chagall. As the title implies, the work stems from a Chagall Trio commission with Grange principally exploring Chagallís broader working methods more than the subject matter of individual paintings in themselves. Consequently a good deal of the musical material is heard across the four movements in varying guises and degrees of foreground and background in common with Chagallís own tendency to reproduce certain images across numerous canvasses in varying contextual situations. The weight of the musical substance is initially borne in the substantial opening moderato, with the ensuing mercurial, muted Scherzo preceding an adagio of considerable gravity and a Con fuoco finale that unites elements of the opening movement in conclusion.

Formed at the Banff Centre for the Arts, the Chagall Trio have commissioned several pieces that draw musical inspiration from the paintings of Marc Chagall, amongst them works by David Matthews and Paul Archbold. Their earlier recording of chamber music by Ethel Smyth on Meridian brought considerable critical attention and judging by the vibrancy and commitment of the performances given here it is to be hoped that their further, valuable dedication to new music can be captured on disc in a similar manner.

Christopher Thomas

 

 



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