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The Jerwood Series 4
William ATTWOOD (b.1972)
Iwwer Tiermen (2005) [12:04]
Joanna BAILIE (b.1973)
Five Famous Adagios (2002/2006) [13:34]
Richard CAUSTON (b.1971)
Sleep (2006) [3:07]
Phoenix (2006) [12:40]
Sebastian Bell (flute)
London Sinfonietta/Nicholas Kok
rec. 27 January 2005, Jerwood Hall, LSO St. Lukes, London (Attwood), 13 May 2006 (Bailie); 8 November 2006, Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, University of York (Causton). DDD
LONDON SINFONIETTA SINFCD1-2008 [41:25]
Experience Classicsonline

This is the fourth disc in the London Sinfonietta’s Jerwood Series, as well as being the latest enterprising release on the Sinfonietta’s own label.
 
It is also bears a dedication to the orchestra’s long-serving principal flautist Sebastian Bell, whose passing in 2007 robbed the contemporary music world of a tireless devotee - a man who lived and enjoyed life to the full. Causton’s short work for solo flute, Sleep, that Bell plays here with such eloquence, is a poignant and fitting reminder of a man and musician who will be sadly missed.
 
A brief glance at the Jerwood Foundation’s website reveals that the Foundation is “dedicated to imaginative and responsible funding in all areas of human endeavour and excellence, with particular emphasis on the arts”. Certainly its contribution to the establishment of the Sinfonietta’s own recording venture has been a critical part of the label’s early development. One can only hope that it is a relationship that will continue to prove artistically productive for some time to come.
 
William Attwood’s involvement with the Sinfonietta stretches back to 2000 when the ensemble commissioned his Tourbillons for the State of the Nation festival of the same year. For a composer whose studies with Michael Finnissy  took place alongside his reading of modern languages at Oxford, the patterns and syntax of language are often inextricably linked to his music, perhaps no more so than in Iwwer Tiermen (“above towers”) where the inspiration is drawn from the poetry of Jean-Louis Kieffer. Originating from Lorraine, Kieffer wrote not in French but in Mosel-Fränkisch, a dialect often consisting, in the composer’s own words, of “arcane and strung out syntax, at other times of blunt vernacular”.
 
They are qualities often reflected in the music, which has the power to both invigorate and disturb. The mysterious explorations of the opening bars soon give way to rapid changes of mood. These range from twisted, even distorted brass solos to high, soaring woodwind passages and fluctuations of dynamic that can be as dramatic and extreme as those of mood. Easy music it isn’t, but Attwood has an acute ear for texture and sonority that when in the hands of artists as tuned-in as Nicholas Kok and the London Sinfonietta, reveal an at times strikingly original mind at work.
 
Joanna Bailie’s residence in Brussels since 2001, coupled with earlier studies in Holland with another British émigré Richard Barrett, partly accounts for the fact that her reputation is particularly prevalent on the Continent. She has however enjoyed a presence at the Huddersfield Festival as well as having seen home-grown performances by the likes of the Sinfonietta and Apartment House.
 
The basic premise of Five Famous Adagios is an interesting, if arguably paradoxical one. The adagios in question, all drawn from works by Bach, are dissected into key cadence points - or “horizontal frequency bands as the composer refers to them - the cumulative effect of Bailie’s treatment of them being such that the material becomes progressively more distant from the recognisable harmonies of the opening sections as the work progresses. The paradox could be seen as the composer’s effective distancing of herself from any emotional element to the music, which she maintains is “grounded in the idea of sonic investigation and music as process” rather than the “romantic and atmospheric”.
 
The clue possibly lies in the work’s original realisation using computer programmes, the version for string quartet given here by the London Sinfonietta, only being prepared later. Whatever the composer’s intentions, whether in live performance or recording, the “atmospheric” element of the music is almost impossible to divorce oneself from, the five brief movements often existing on the edge of audibility and creating their own eerily haunting sound-world.
 
The name of Richard Causton is arguably the most recognisable of the three composers on the disc, Causton being another composer who has benefited from the Sinfonietta’s championship. In his case this can be traced back to the work that proved to be his breakthrough, The Persistence of Memory, first performed under Oliver Knussen in 1995.
 
Sleep grew from the working material for Phoenix and at three minutes is a brief, yet affecting night sequence that draws additional inspiration from the poem Mythistorema by George Seferis.
 
Of the four works on the disc however, it is Phoenix that leaves the most lasting and powerful impression. The recipient of a 2006 Royal Philharmonic Award for chamber-scale composition, the work is cast in two movements of roughly equal length. From the gentle oscillations of the opening, it proceeds to streams of piano sound (“the piano’s only hope of sustaining a single note is through constant, rapid repetition” states Causton in his programme note) pitted against the sustaining sounds of flute, clarinet, violin and cello. The second movement’s clearly discernable development of material from the first culminates in a brief, touchingly simple coda which lends the work an impressive architectural unity. Allied with Causton’s imaginative use of his instrumental forces, Phoenix is one of those works that prompts further exploration of this talented composer’s output.
 
Another worthwhile addition to the London Sinfonietta’s  Jerwood series then, once again drawing attention to the rich diversity of young, British compositional talent. Other than a few prerequisite coughs and splutters from the live audience the recordings are as vivid and natural as one could wish for although at forty-one minutes, playing time is hardly on the generous side. 
 
Christopher Thomas
 


 


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