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Tim SOUSTER (1943
Equalisation (1980) [14:10] *
Sonata (1978-79) [32:23] **
Equale Brass Quintet; Tim Souster *; The Nash Ensemble/Lionel Friend
rec. 12 April 1982 (Equalisation), 24 July 1982 (Sonata) Nimbus
Records, Wyastone Leys, Monmouth, Wales. DDD *
NIMBUS NI5317 [46:40]
Perhaps because - or just as probably although! - Tim Souster
was a pupil of Stockhausen, his place in contemporary British
music remaines a little hard to characterise since he bounced
onto the scene in the early 1960s. After a relatively conventional,
if eclectic 'apprenticeship', Souster founded the group Intermodulation
with Roger Smalley in the early 1970s. A consistent interest first
in acoustic electronics, then in computers and music distinguished
Souster; as did excursions into Eastern, film and 'rock' idioms.
This CD contains two major compositions by Tim Souster that are unavailable elsewhere and makes a welcome addition to the catalogue. The performances are authoritative without being dogmatic; perceptive, yet liberal.
Equalisation was commissioned by John Wallace and John Jenkins, members of Equale Brass and actually written shortly after the Sonata. It explores some of the ways in which electronics can extend instruments' acoustic possibilities. Indeed, the title is an ironic reference to the recording technique that seeks to make the output as close to the input as possible. Clearly, this piece does the opposite. Two electronic devices were used in Equalisation: a small digital delay akin to echo, and pitch transposition.
It's a jazzy piece; but more in terms of texture than heavy syncopation.
It's truly 'brassy'. In fact its opening and closing are redolent
of the horn solos in Britten's Serenade. Also of note is
the extent to which Souster's sense of economy packed so much
in a relatively short space of time. Concentration is a virtue
and Souster has respected it here. The playing gets right behind
Souster's intentions and is full of life.
The Sonata was commissioned by the BBC's long-time music producer, Stephen Plaistow, for the Nash Ensemble, who have here recorded what must be regarded as the work's definitive performance. This recording was made a couple of years after its première with Christopher van Kampen again as cello soloist. The cello is in some ways the 'glue' that binds the two movements … one written when Souster was resident in Stanford, California and the other in New York; although there is no geographical programme reflecting this.
The first movement is a set of harmonic variations, the cadenza
in the middle is for cello and the finale deals with harmonic
resolution of (otherwise) dissonant chords. In fact, giving consonant
and dissonant intervals equal value was yet another characteristic,
or rather yet another goal, of Souster's. He saw this as a way
through the multiplicity of effects and techniques of which contemporary
music appears capable and which are on offer to composers. There
are obvious 'pop' references (another trade-mark of Souster's).
The music is in turns quiet and gently-paced, and excited and
frenetic. It too is redolent of other twentieth century styles
… Ligeti springs to mind towards the end of the first movement
[tr.2], and Reich's insistences at the start of the second [tr.4]
for example. Not that Souster's invention loses out for lack of
originality. The melodies are pleasant and well developed. Van
Kampen's playing is supportive and full of vim. Though he also
knew when to illustrate rather than lead the thematic lines with
which the Sonata is shot through.
The CD is well produced. It's encouraging that Nimbus still - though this is not a new release - ploughs this furrow with such enterprise and enthusiasm. The booklet that comes with the admittedly rather short, at barely three quarters of an hour, CD gives just the right amount of information about Souster, the two works and the Nash Ensemble and Equale Brass quintet. If you're new to Souster and/or want to explore iconic examples of mid to late twentieth century electronic music which had successfully gone beyond the purely experimental stages, this is a good place to start.
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