Martin BUTLER (b.
American Rounds (1998) [13:20]
Siward’s River Song (2001)a [5:43]
Suzanne’s River Song (1999)b [4:46]
Nathaniel’s Mobile [9:07]c
Funérailles (2005)c [16:03]
Two Scarlatti Sonatas (arr. Butler, 2005)
Sequenza Notturna (2003) [11:37]
Walden Snow (2004)d [3:17]
Ensemble (William Howard (piano)bcd;
Simon Blendis (violin)b; Douglas Paterson (viola)d;
Jane Salmon (cello)a; Peter Buckoke (double-bass))
rec. Champs Hill, Pulborough, West Sussex, June 2006. DDD NMC D120 [72:03]
Butler’s piano quintet American Rounds clearly
alludes to American folk-music, without actually quoting
any. It does so in much the same way as Bluegrass Variations (1987)
for solo violin available on Lorelt LNT104 reviewed here
a few years ago. The first movements are rhythmically lively
and full of freshness. The third alludes to hymn singing,
whereas the final movement is a brilliant toccata-like Hoe
Down with brief hints at an imaginary Irish jig. The somewhat
later Sequenza Notturna, though for the same
instrumental line-up, is a completely different work. On
the whole, it is much more serious, and partly lives-up to
its title, in that atmospheric nocturnal music alternates
with more animated sections. There’s a striking episode in
which an energetic recitative for the strings evokes “Moorish
Spain” - to quote the apt words of John Fallas. This lovely,
deeply-felt little gem is one of the highlights.
River Song (2001, solo
cello) and Suzanne’s River Song (1999,
violin and piano) are related to Butler’s chamber opera A
Better Place. Suzanne’s River Song is
actually a transcription for violin and piano of music
associated with the opera’s main character. Siward’s
River Song is a free fantasy on a motif connected
with Siward, the drowned Thames lighterman, whose ghostly
presence pervades the opera (information drawn from John
Fallas’ excellent notes). The cello work is rather more
interesting and far-reaching than its companion, and
contains some imaginative instrumental touches such as “the
eerie sound of a rhythmic motto tapped out on the body
of the instrument, representing the hollow creakings
and resonances of old Thames timbers”. This does not
mean that the piece is descriptive in any way. It is
rather a sad, dark-hued lament.
are not told when Nathaniel’s Mobile for piano
was composed, nor did I find that information elsewhere.
It is a short work contrasting animated and slower chordal
sections. Funérailles for piano is much more
substantial as well as being the longest single item here.
It is similar to Nathaniel’s Mobile in its
alternation of strongly hammered-out chiming chords that
throughout, albeit with variations, and of slower chordal
episodes. The whole, however, is a rather more serious affair
possessing remarkable expressive strength for all its apparent
restraint. This is the other gem in this generous release.
Scarlatti Sonatas were arranged for The Schubert
Ensemble in 2004 or 2005, and make a nicely contrasted
diptych. Well worth having, although I would have preferred
some other work by Butler.
generously filled selection of recent chamber works by Butler
ends with a lovely, atmospheric miniature for viola and piano Walden
Snow written when the composer was in the States.
music is not unlike that of Judith Weir, in that it is readily
accessible, while avoiding the all-too-easy traps of the
so-called New Simplicity. It may sound easy on the surface,
but it often has its tricky bits, particularly in the complex
rhythmical patterns to be heard in almost every work here.
Moreover, Butler never overworks his material, so that these
perfectly balanced works never outstay their welcome. Finally,
it is always player- and listener-friendly without compromise
or condescension. The members of The Schubert Ensemble, be
it individually or collectively, obviously relish every moment
of the music and play with much commitment throughout. This
is one of the loveliest discs that I have heard recently.
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