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Stephen GOSS (b. 1964)
Frozen Music (2005) [19.40] (1)
Uneasy Dreams (2006) [7.43] (2)
Dark Knights and Holy Fools (2006) [13.58] (3)
Under Milk Wood Songs (1990) [10.50] (4)
Sonata for Guitar (2006) [15.32] (5)
Students from the Yehudi Menuhin School (Tom Ellis (guitar); Tetsuumi Nagata (violin); Oscar Perks (viola); Jonathan Bloxham (cello)) (1); Delta Saxophone Quartet (Graeme Blevins, Pete Whyman, Tim Holmes, Chris Caldwell) (2); Craig Ogden (guitar) (3); Paul Tanner (percussion) (3); Jenevora Williams (voice) (4); Stephen Goss (guitar) (4); Michael Partington (guitar) (5)
rec. Menuhin Hall, Stoke DíAbernon, Surrey, 23 June 2006 (1); Studio One, Performing Arts Technology Studios, University of Surrey (2) (3), 3 June 2007 (2); 14 October 2007 (3); Seldon Hall, Elstree, Herts, 25 April 1993; Queen Anne Christian Church, Seattle, USA, 6 September 2007


Experience Classicsonline

Stephen Goss has followed his disc, The Garden of Cosmic Speculation (to be reviewed), with another disc of chamber music, in its various guises, all linked by external influences on the type and form of the music. Goss is a guitarist as well as teaching composition at the University of Surrey so it is not surprising that the guitar features heavily here.

The first item, Frozen Music, gives its title to the disc itself. The work is a seven movement one for classical guitar quartet (guitar, violin, viola, cello). This is a slightly awkward ensemble to write for as if the bowed instruments gang up on the guitar, then they can easily drown it. But sensitively written, this type of ensemble can reap many rewards. For his new piece, Goss mainly uses textures which are transparent, even though there are moments of drama and strength. The title refers to Friedrich von Schellingís quote, ĎArchitecture is music in space, as it were a frozen musicí. Each movement is based on a piece of architecture and the form of the movement is dependent on the architecture. So that the opening movement, The Menuhin Hall presents a fantasy of music associated with Yehudi Menuhin; the work was commissioned by the Menuhin School for performance in the Menuhin Hall. In Ronchamp Chapel Goss constructs his music based on Le Corbusierís proportional relationships. The East Stand refers to Arsenal Stadium at Highbury (the original one not the new one) and is an exercise in dynamic high energy. Grand Central Waltz refers to the moment in the film The Fisher King when the entire concourse at Grand Central Station starts waltzing. This is the first of a number of references to Terry Gilliam films scattered about the disc. This is followed by Walt Disney Concert Hall, Fallingwater and The Gherkin. Each movement contains allusions to pieces which reference the place in question, but apart from the rather obvious waltz in the Grand Central movement, these references are neatly embedded into Gossís musical style. You do not need to worry about the allusions and references unless you want to.

All but two of the movements on the disc are under five minutes long; essentially Goss has presented us with groups of characteristic pieces. Whereas in times past composers would distil a particular emotion and atmosphere into a characteristic piece and remain enigmatic about its origins, Goss is far more up-front about his influences and the references which have gone into the music. This need not worry us; Goss is too fine a composer for him to serve up undigested fragments of other composers in patchwork form. All these pieces are pure Goss, with other composers subtly hinted at beneath the surface.

Uneasy dreams is written for saxophone quartet. The three movements successfully exploit the wonderful sub-aqueous timbre of the group. Each movement is based on a moment from a Terry Gilliam film. I must confess myself unfamiliar with the films, but I found that there was much to enjoy on a purely musical basis. As with the first piece on the disc, Goss has a nice ear for instrumental timbre and creates an entirely characteristic soundworld for the saxophones.

Dark Knights and Holy Fools is also based on Terry Gilliam films, this time there are five movements, each taken from a moment in Time Bandits, Tideland, Brazil, The man Who Killed Don Quixote and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The suite is written for guitar and percussion, another fascinating mix of timbres and sounds, admirably realised by Craig Ogden and Paul Tanner. The notes do not give much information about how the various movements relate to the films, but each movement is very short, just an essential distillation of a moment or an emotion.

I must confess myself rather less taken with the Under Milk Wood Songs. These were written rather earlier than everything else on the disc and are performed by Jenevora Williams accompanied by the composer himself on guitar. Each song focuses on a particular character from the play, featuring some of the colourful female characters. Somehow Gossís songs seem to underplay Dylan Thomasís characterful writing and the essence of the characters is not quite caught. Goss accompanies the voice very lightly, often simply interrupting or commenting rather than actually accompanying.

The final piece on the disc is a sonata for guitar written for the guitarist Michael Partington who plays it on this disc. The first movement, Pastorale, takes the structural proportions, harmonic and tonal relationships from the first movement of Debussyís sonata for flute, viola and harp but over-writes them with new thematic and textural material. My first question is, why? The programme notes do not explain why Goss chose to rework that particular movement and transmogrify it into a piece for guitar. But if you listen to the piece you donít need to worry, Debussy disappears and you can simply appreciate Gossís fine textures and Partingtonís lovely playing. The second movement is a distillation of Scarlatti-like toccatas, dazzlingly played. This is followed by a very romantic Adagio Sostenuto, rather remarkably based on fragments of late Beethoven piano sonatas. Given the source material the result is extremely lush and romantic.

Whilst I liked each individual movement of this sonata, I was not sure that they added up to a complete work as a whole. Perhaps the rather down-beat ending had something to do with it.

This is another fine disc from Goss, full of lovely textures and sounds. Lovers of architecture and of films by Terry Gilliam will find much to amuse themselves, teasing out references. It is however possible to take the disc at a purely musical value. Do buy it if you want to hear some accessible but distinctively thought-provoking material.

Robert Hugill




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