Richard BARRETT (b. 1959)
Negatives: Ne songe plus à fuir [11:15]; Earth [12:05]; Another Heavenly Day [7:39]; Negatives [39:35], Codex 1 [13:09]
rec. March 1992- May 1993, Allan Eaton Studios, Melbourne, Australia 22 Sept 2007, Frederic Chopin Academy of Music, Warsaw [Codex]. DDD
NMC D143 [79:24]

This is a reissue of an Etcetera disc, recorded by the Australian contemporary music ensemble, ELISION. Barrett is a Welsh composer, born in 1959. He was a student of Peter Wiegold and is known for his complex compositions which were influenced by Ferneyhough in the 1980s.

Ne songe plus à fuir (dream no more of fleeing) is a work for solo cello, taking its title from a painting by Roberto Matta, a Chilean surrealist. The atmosphere of this work is dark and at times disturbing. There are resonances of Xenakis, Ferneyhough and others in the writing, and the piece is an extreme virtuoso challenge for the performer. Barrett explores the instrument in many non-traditional ways, creating a fascinating sound-world which both challenges and excites.

Earth is a duo for trombone and percussion, an enticing work with a sense of tribal energy. The rhythmic interplay between the parts helps the ear through Barrett’s music, providing a valuable frame of reference. Although these instruments are perhaps an unlikely combination, the effect works well, and the timbral varieties of the trombone are particularly enjoyable.

Next comes the trio for E flat clarinet, electric guitar and double bass, Another heavenly day. Taking its name from Beckett’s play, Happy Days, there is a distinct irony in the title. The first work Barrett wrote for the ELISION ensemble, this is an interesting work which fuses another unusual combination of instrumental sounds to good effect. The music possesses an internal energy which develops through the work, as the individual parts come in and out of synchronisation with each other.

The title track of the disc, Negatives is a set of five pieces for chamber ensemble. The opening is percussive, with a range of fascinating instrumental sounds contributing to the overall texture. Each movement has a slightly different feel, with changing sonorities and altering moods, but retains a link with the previous one, sometimes overlapping. Various instruments feature as soloists and the overall effect is of an evolving musical landscape which is full of detail and intrigue.

The final track on the disc is Codex I, another ensemble work, which has a bright feel and a highly successful instrumental combination of clarinet, bass clarinet, oboe, trumpet, trombone and electric guitar. The electric guitar is particularly effective, as are the range of brass sounds created through the use of various mutes. This is an improvised piece, with the structure provided by the composer, and this live 2007 recording is an addition to the previous release of this disc. Of all the tracks on the disc I enjoyed this one most; it seemed to have a sense of fresh energy which is testament both to Barrett’s concept for the work and also to the committed playing and mature musicianship of the members of ELISION.

Barrett’s music is imaginative and often challenging; his style is not immediately accessible but has much to offer the listener who is willing to explore his musical language. Multiple hearings reveal further detail and allow a deeper understanding of the music. The playing here from ELISION is constantly excellent; they play with a sense of commitment and understanding, and the end result is highly effective.

Carla Rees