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Laurence CRANE (b. 1961)
20th Century Music - Solo Piano Pieces 1985-1999
20th Century Music [2.48]
Three Preludes [7.00]
Blue Blue Blue [7.03]
Kierkegaards [11.46]
Birthday Piece for Michael Finnissy [3.20]
Derridas 1[5.52]
Gorm Busk [3.14]
James Duke son of John Duke [6.45]
Looking for Michael Bracewell [1.52]
Andrew Renton becomes an international art critic [6.39]
Chorale for Howard Skempton [1.15]
Three Pieces for James Clapperton [12.15]
Michael Finnissy (piano)
rec. no information supplied
METIER MSV28506 [80.00] 
Experience Classicsonline

The music on this new CD from the adventurous Metier label is very quiet and very simple. These two adjectives are not often used in relation to recent piano music - volatile textures, fractured forms and extreme dissonance are the norm. Crane’s music might be part of a trend in contemporary composition that would certainly include Howard Skempton, a composer who has a piece dedicated to him on this recording. The performer, the composer/pianist Michael Finnissy has also written music of a ‘new simplicity’ as well as ‘new complexity’. The progenitor of Crane’s cool, unelaborated chords is surly Erik Satie. Also, Crane has a taste for whimsical titles not unlike the French master although they are titles that seem to commemorate friendships rather than assuming any overtly satirical stance. Compared to Satie and Skempton, Crane’s musical language is even more pared down. He sets up a chord sequence, often with just two chords in oscillation, yet the listener waits in vain for a Gymnopédie-like tune to weave its spell. As each piece progresses - or rather doesn’t so to speak! - the listener becomes aware of a peculiar tension and culminating momentum. Often the chords are simple - the kind that would behave functionally in a traditional context. Crane’s chords deny their function however as if admiring themselves like harmonic Narcissi. The effect is gently disturbing, even perplexing. This is perhaps precisely the point of this music. In the plastic arts they might appear as a slowly turning mobile or a Calder sculpture.

This recording presents all of Crane’s piano output between the years 1985 and 1999. Two of the pieces are derived from Crane’s theatre music written for productions directed by Andrew Renton: the two Kierkegaards and the set of four Derridas. Although I saw neither production I can well imagine their effectiveness as stage incidental music. They transform well as concert pieces. 

The performances by Michael Finnissy seem just right. He doesn’t seek to make any dramatic points in the music. In a sense he allows the music to play itself, to make its own statement. Yet the emotional and technique difficulties should not be underestimated. Finnissy’s control throughout this long disc is admirable. The recording engineers are to be praised as well for they have not been tempted to swamp the music in an ambient soup. The fairly close intimate recording suits the music better, as if eavesdropping. 

Is it Minimalism? Is it Post-Modernism? Is it English School of Whimsy? It doesn’t matter; this quietly insistent music exists in its own terms.

David Johnson

see also Reviews by Dominy Clements and Bob Briggs


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