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.
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.
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
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.
see also Reviews
by Dominy Clements and Bob