Tim SOUSTER (1943 - 1994)
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.
Mark Sealey
Two typical and persuasive examples of Tim Souster's work