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Paul WHITTY (b. 1970)
Thirty–nine pages (2005/2007) [62:04]
Darragh Morgan (violin); Mary Dullea (piano)
rec. August 2007, The Old Grannary, Suffolk. DDD
Experience Classicsonline

Paul Whitty was born in
Lisburn, Northern Ireland in 1970. He has achieved an impressive amount of performances and his work has been taken up by a host of leading ensembles and featured at many contemporary music festivals. 

Whitty has written, “Recently I have been engaged in a series of interventions in pre-existing contexts - re-reading, re-organising, re-categorising, re-distributing and re-sounding the materials that I have found there. These contexts can be scores, actual physical sites or instruments. In the violin and piano duo thirty-nine pages (2005-2007) I re-organised each page of the Henle Urtext Edition of Cesar Franck's Sonata for violin and piano in A Major”.

I have no problem with this kind of de–construction, perhaps Whitty might prefer the word ‘re–evaluation’, of already existing material and what we have here is a fascinating look at an old friend. That we can barely recognize the old friend is neither here nor there for the Franck Sonata is only the stepping off point for Whitty’s work – I hesitate to call it a composition. 

Thirty–nine pages consists of 39 (or is it 38?) pages, which can be performed in any order, the longest playing for a little over 5 minutes, the shortest being 10 seconds. It’s an oddly engaging work and whilst there’s very little for the listener to latch on to – such as melody, harmony or counterpoint – there is sufficient material to keep one wanting to hear more. I should also point out that if you’re hoping to hear any part of the Franck Sonata that work is well hidden except for the very occasional fleeting glance. 

What we have here is, in general, a kind of meditation, with minimal movement. Think of an even more static Morton Feldman but without the forward motion of the American, and you’ve got some idea of what to expect. But it’s not without its moments of humour, which are obviously intentional. 

This is not any easy listen, however, for the source material is so well hidden that the various sections, or pages, have little, or no, relationship to each other except the sparseness of notes, and, as each page is separated by a silence, there’s little continuity in the classical sense. Despite this, the music is compelling in a strangely hypnotic and disturbing way. Even more disturbing is that in the brief notes the composer writes, “the thirty–eight pages (of a piece called thirty–nine pages) can be played in any combination and in any order”, which is odd in itself. What is truly worrying is that the final track (no.38) contains pages five to forty three. How’s that for screwing up your perceptions of what you’re listening to? 

This isn’t a work to be listened to for pleasure alone for the whole layout of the piece leaves much to the listener’s imagination, and much work must be done by the listener. One can have hours of fun re–arranging the order of the tracks to get a different perspective on the music and I am sure that this is what the composer would want you to do. 

In the long run, I don’t think that it matters in what way you listen to this piece as long as you listen to it and give the music time to get inside you. The performances are very fine, both musicians sustaining brief lines which seem to hang in the air as if suspended in nothingness. I am not sure how often I will return to this work for it is a hard listen but it will, once one becomes familiar with it, be worth the work you have to put into the experience.

Bob Briggs




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