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Gary CARPENTER (b. 1951)
Ein Musikalisches Snookerspiel (1991)a [8:21]
Da Capo (1981)b [6:40]
Distanza (2004)b [11:02]
Van Assendelft’s Vermeer (2004)c [4:06]
After Braque (2006)b [12:48]
Die Flimmerkiste (1982)b [25:33]
Pamela Nash (clavichord)c; Ensemble 10/10/Gary Carpentera, Clark Rundellb
rec. Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool, 12 May 2007 (Ein Musikalisches Snookerspiel) and 15 January 2007 (After Braque, Die Flimmerkiste); Bushell Hall, Birkenhead, 20 October 2006 (Distanza, Da Capo) and Concert Room, Royal Academy of Music, London, 15 December 2006 (Van Assendelft’s Vermeer)
NMC D111 [69:30]
Experience Classicsonline

Several years ago, I heard a tape of Carpenter’s early orchestral work Amethyst Deceiver (1982) and I immediately felt that here was a composer whose music I would like to hear more often. I had to wait until this disc was released.
The works recorded here span some twenty years of his composing career, from a fairly early work, Da Capo (1981) to a quite recent one After Braque completed in 2006. Through this disc his musical progress, both in its diversity and its consistency, may be appreciated.
Da Capo is for six players (alto flute, English horn, bass clarinet, viola, cello and piano) and is described by the composer as a short Scherzo and Trio. The whole amounts to a lovely work that never outstays its welcome.
From 1974 to 1976 Carpenter worked as a ballet repetiteur and conductor in a minor opera house in Krefeld, Germany. “Die Flimmerkiste is a diary of sorts, in which many of the people and events encountered in Krefeld are remembered”. This work commissioned by Odaline de la Martinez and Lontano is yet another suite laid-out in three ‘volumes’: Volume 1 consists of twelve very short portraits (played without a break), Volume 2 has just one longer movement (although it too is made up of thirty-eight interlinked movements). Volume 3 consists of seventeen short portraits (again played without a break). These short portraits are in turn mildly ironic and affectionate, but always with a pinch or three of salt. The title refers to “a dodgy but characterful bar, attached to a small fleapit cinema”.
Ein Musikalisches Snookerspiel was composed for a short series of concerts promoted by the New Macnaghten Concerts entitled ‘Mozart to Post-Modernism’. Three composers (Nicholas Maw, Colin Matthews and Gary Carpenter) were requested to realise “Mozart’s proto-aleatory Ein musikalisches Würfelspiel”. Carpenter’s work was written in great haste, which – I must say – does not show in the music. The work is scored for wind octet and the music makes play with Mozart, the Mozart tune being constantly put into unexpected and at times mildly dissonant contexts. In his insert notes, the composer goes into considerable detail as to how the music is based on modern snooker; but – and it is a big but – I will not tell you much about it myself since I never played snooker! Suffice to say that this is a funny, well-made piece revealing one of Carpenter’s musical hallmarks: humour.
In striking contrast, Distanza for twenty-three players is a rather more serious piece based on a chanson by Jacques Arcadelt. The composer puts this through various hoops, by turn serious, lively, rhythmically alert, sometimes with a shade of Stravinsky. The title may be understood in different ways: distance between the times of Arcadelt and of Carpenter, distance achieved by the physical layout of the ensemble and “the aesthetic distance between the religious nature [of Arcadelt’s song] and [my] pervasive use of samba rhythms and harmonic gestures”. The end result is a beautifully made, attractive piece full of imagination and, for all its sophistication, readily accessible.
Van Assendelft’s Vermeer is a short piece for clavichord dedicated to Pamela Nash who plays it here. The title apparently refers to a painting by Vermeer A damsel playing on the clavichord mentioned in an inventory of property belonging to the widow of Nicholas Van Assendelft. The music never attempts description; rather it is a study of the clavichord’s “small and evanescent sound”. Unlike the other works recorded here, the music is full of tiny sounds and many silences, in an almost pointillist way.
After Braque, completed as recently as 2006, apparently exists in different versions, including this one for an ensemble of twenty players. It is cast as a suite consisting of three movements separated by two short interludes, the latter being instrumental versions of solo songs from an continuing opera project. The music does not directly evoke Braque’s work or any particular painting of his, except that the titles of the two interludes refer to two of his canvases. The most remarkable feature is the richly rhythmic nature of the music, that again may bring Stravinsky but also Jolivet to mind.
These attractive works are superbly played by all concerned and the disc as a whole is engaging from first to last, while the music succeeds in remaining accessible for all its technical sophistication and its rhythmical complexity. Judging by these works, Carpenter’s music is very often quite earnest but leavened by a gleam of humour - undoubtedly one of its most endearing qualities.
Hubert Culot


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