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Joe CUTLER (b.1968)
Bartlebooth (2004) [11:09]
Archie (2005) [5:07]
Buckley’s Hot Licks (2001) [5:11]
Sal’s Sax (1995/6) [12:47]
In Praise of Dreams (2004) [15:35]
Music for Cello and Strings (2005) [21:47]
Clavinova Music (2005) [3:41]
Sarah Leonard (soprano); Andrew Sparling (clarinet); Darragh Morgan (violin); Mary Dullea (piano); Stephen Gutman (piano); Robin Michael (cello)
Orkest de Ereprijs; BBC Concert Orchestra/Charles Hazlewood
rec. Watford Colosseum, 29 November 2007 (Music for Cello); Church of St. Silas, Kentish Town, 26 January 2004 (Buckley’s Hot Licks); Musis Sacrum, Arnhem, Netherlands, 15-16 April 1996 (Sal’s Sax); Riverrun Studios, Potton, Bedford, April 15 2007 (Archie; Bartlebooth); Adrian Boult Hall, Birmingham Conservatoire, 17 April 2007 (In Praise of Dreams) and 19 February 2008 (Clavinova Music)
NMC D134 [75:56]


Experience Classicsonline

What better 40th birthday present could a composer get from a record company than a well-filled, handsomely presented overview of his output? I for one would be over the moon and I suspect Joe Cutler, quiet and unassuming as he appears to be, will secretly be very pleased indeed. Currently Head of Composition at Birmingham Conservatoire, this disc really does appear to include many of his most popular and important works, wide-ranging in their appeal and all superbly performed and recorded.

If I have to start with a favourite, it has to be Sal’s Sax. It’s the earliest piece here and one of his most successful, originally for chamber group but re-scored (or re-mixed, as the score has it) into large amplified ensemble for the virtuoso Dutch minimalist band Orkest de Ereprijs, who here give a stunning rendition. It is perhaps the ultimate example of the composer’s fascination for the often aggressive mix of American minimalism and pop/ rock influences that so characterise the Dutch school, headed by veteran Louis Andriessen. Indeed, it was no coincidence in the planning of last year’s Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival that the lunch hour concert featuring Sal’s Sax should also have in the second half one of its closest models, Andriessen’s funky 1984 masterpiece De Stijl, both works getting enthusiastic renditions from the University student orchestra of which Cutler was once part. He was in the capacity audience and was greeted with warm applause, not surprising since the punchy rhythmic energy and cool, jazz-inspired quieter moments really seemed to strike a chord with the younger listeners. It’s a marvellous score, toe-tapping one minute, wandering into Miles Davis/ John Coltrane territory the next, before pinning you back in your seat with rock-like pumping rhythms.

The composer’s score indications for Music for Cello and Strings also tell you quite a bit about the nature of this piece’s three movements – ‘Lush and bluesy’, ‘Unstoppable, with flair’ and ‘Dark but dreamlike’. It’s an intense, atmospheric work, beautifully scored and redolent, as Peter Burt’s entertaining liner note tells us, of Ives, Messiaen and the wispy qualities of Bartok’s ‘night music’. It also seems light years away from the ‘polished barbarity’ of Sal’s Sax whilst making an effective counter-weight.

Cutler enjoys many modern influences that are more abstract or non-musical - Kerouac, Ishiguro, Primo Levi, Willem de Kooning are all mentioned – so the word setting of Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska for In Praise of Dreams seems wholly appropriate as Cutler spent fruitful years at the Chopin Academy in Warsaw. The mood is pensive, sensitive to the texts subtle shifts, quite tonal and, yes, easy on the ear.

Rhythmic intensity and swirling, repeated note patterns again mark out the shorter pieces, particularly Clavinova Music, where the Ligeti Etudes come to mind, and Buckley’s Hot Licks, where manic stride gestures from Art Tatum and bluesy riffs are suddenly interrupted by the pianist reciting words to us about a ‘party lasting three years’. Peter Burt’s note memorably describes it ‘as if Conlon Nancarrow had taken a swig out of Jack Kerouac’s whisky bottle’.

Most of the pieces are short, great fun, superbly crafted and brilliantly performed throughout. Cutler wears his influences proudly; absorbing, re-working and re-thinking them as all artists do, finally emerging with his own very special sound world. I would go as far as to say there’s something here for everyone and NMC have done him proud.

Tony Haywood


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