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Laurence CRANE (b. 1961)
Solo Piano Pieces 1985-1999

20th Century Music (1999) [2:48]
Three Preludes (1985) [7:08]
Blue Blue Blue (1986) [7:03]
Kierkegards (1986) [11:46]
Birthday Piece for Michael Finnissy (1996) [3:20]
Derridas (1985-86) [15:52]
Gorm Busk (1991) [3:14]
James Duke son of John Duke (1989) [6:45]
Looking for Michael Bracewell (1989) [1:52]
Andrew Renton becomes an international art critic (1989) [6:39]
Chorale for Howard Skempton (1997) 1:15]
Three Pieces for James Clapperton (1989) [12:15]
Michael Finnissy (piano)
rec. Turner Sims Concert Hall, Southampton University, 29 February 2004 and 31 March 2005
METIER MSV28506 [80:00]
Experience Classicsonline

The Divine Art/Metier website describes Laurence Crane’s music as “thoroughly contemporary ... His music can be described as super-minimalist, but that would ignore the incredibly fine transitions of harmony and time embedded in his works. Ultimately this is music for the post-modernist age ...” The term minimalist here doesn’t imply ostinato-style writing in the manner of Steve Reich. Crane embraces the ‘less is more’ principle in most of these works, paring the notes down so that, while each work has its own substance and atmosphere, the complications of virtuoso pianism, atonality, alternative modern piano techniques or the pressing need for some kind of avant-garde originality are all elegantly sidestepped.

In this way, piano buffs who already know and like the work of Erik Satie or G.I Gurdjieff are on fairly safe ground here. Some pieces are simple almost to the point of a kind of naivety. The last of the Three Preludes for instance develops a disarmingly childlike melodic shape, but only takes it on a very short walk, hands held the whole time. This is immediately followed by Blue Blue Blue, which extends a fairly straightforward but nonetheless potent ‘jazz’ progression over its entire seven-minute length. Once you have overcome the empty intervals in Kierkegaard his prelude you should have an idea as to whether 80 minutes of this kind of music is going to inspire you, or drive you completely up the wall. 

For me, Crane is at his best where at his quietest and most restrained – by which I mean not always in terms of sheer volume of sound. The simplicity of line and integrity of structure in a piece such as the Birthday Piece for Michael Finnissy is priceless. I had come across Laurence Crane’s music as part of the Spectrum series, and the short Chorale for Howard Skempton was written for its second volume, being another miniature masterpiece. This is of course a matter of taste, but I am less enamoured of the ‘pounding’ repetitions in the entire Jacques Derrida series and other pieces – not that the repeating notes ‘pound’ in the same way as a Michael Nyman, but when you have a similar repeated pattern going on long enough it tends to drill little holes in your brain. Taken in isolation the pieces are fine, and placed in context – a theatrical presentation with texts and a diversity of media – these would no doubt work very well indeed. After a while I’d had enough however, especially as several of the pieces which follow: James Duke son of John Duke, Looking for Michael Bracewell, and the last of the Three Pieces for James Clapperton use similar repeated chord patterns. 

This is a fine piano recording, and Michael Finnissy’s peerless playing is of course unsurpassed in this kind of material. I admire Laurence Crane’s expressive mission and musical honesty, and am delighted to have been allowed a good long look into his output for solo piano. For me it was a little like peering into a coral reef in a glass-bottom boat – full of timeless beauty. Maybe it’s an effect of Post-Modernist Composer Global Warming: I only found it a shame that nothing really surprising popped out from behind any of those wonderful shapes.

Dominy Clements 

see also Review by Bob Briggs




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