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2011 PLUG: Music from the Royal Conservatoire
of Scotland 2011 PLUG New Music Festival
Christopher DUNCAN (b.1989)
*Twine, for chamber ensemble [5:12]
Twitching, for solo clarinet [7:31]
Die Nachtblume, for soprano and piano [2:54]
*Barotrauma, for chamber ensemble [7:57]
*Surge, for chamber ensemble [6:13]
Sojourn Aufenthalt, for soprano and piano [4:09]
Lewis MURPHY (b.1992)
Am Turme, for soprano and chamber ensemble [7:35]
Gill's Delirium, for two clarinets and percussion [8:44]
Calum Robertson (clarinet) (Miles)
Jessica Leary (soprano), Alasdair Macaskill (piano) (Shucksmith)
Fiona Wilkie (soprano), Theodoros Iosifidis (piano) (Capperauld)
Nigel Boddice, conductor (Murphy)
Fraser Langton, Calum Robertson (clarinets), James Gorman, Glynn
Forrest (percussion) (Forman)
rec. 2011 PLUG Festival, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Glasgow
(live recordings). DDD
NIMBUS ALLIANCE NI 6192 [50:40]
The puff for this CD from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland
(RCS) states that "PLUG started off from a lack of enthusiasm
for what had become the official annual contemporary music festival.
We felt that the canon of what is generally accepted as contemporary
music in the UK was no longer relevant to our students so we
wanted to create something new." Those are the words of
composer Gordon McPherson, who is also Head of Composition at
the RCS - until recently the RSAMD, or Royal Scottish Academy
of Music and Drama. What could he mean by "the canon
of what is generally accepted as contemporary music"? Is
there really a canon? Surely all contemporary music is contemporary
music, whether anyone "accepts" it or not?
More importantly, there is such a huge amount of new art music
being written, of almost endless variety, it seems implausible
that all of it could be "no longer relevant" to McPherson's
students. In any case, the students are studying composition
at the RCS, presumably, because they want to be composers, whose
profession or compulsion it is to write music, whether or not
it is relevant or necessary or even likeable.
It is a pity that institutions and promoters do not stick to
straight facts, which in this case are these: this CD contains
a selection of music from the RCS's own annual 'PLUG
Festival', which since 2006 has showcased new music from
the Conservatoire's students and premiered over 300 works.
Let the listener take over from there!
McPherson does the RCS no favours by stating that "PLUG
has grown [sic] from strength to strength and is now heralded
as one of the most exciting festivals in the UK, if not wider,
for new music." On the other hand, it must be said that
this is not a case of hype hiding inadequacy. The various works
in this programme, as well as the performances, are at worst
not too bad, whilst some are really rather good.
With regard to the opening work, Glasgow-born Christopher Duncan
writes that Twine "is a piece about my love for Electronica
music. Scandinavian Electronica music, in particular, has influence
a lot of my music." Fortunately Duncan's music is
better than his ability to write good English: Twine is an attractive
easy listen, broadly neo-Classical in spirit. It is upstaged,
however, by American Timothy Miles's Twitching, spectacularly
performed by Calum Robertson, for whom it was written: - a memorably
virtuosic workout for the clarinet, trilling and jerking up
and down, in and out until it literally runs out of puff.
Surge was written by another Glaswegian, Claire McCue. To her
credit, the work was performed last year on BBC Radio 3's
Hear and Now programme. It is a stylish, colourfully orchestrated
piece, its quiet, twitchy first bars the prelude to the titular
'surge' of energy. The opening of Jason Staddon's
Barotrauma is superficially quite similar for a while. The piece
is named after, and is a musical abstraction of, of all things,
an ear infection Staddon had. He writes that because of his
illness he found the work "physically painful to listen
to" - a description some listeners will doubtless still
find applicable. Despite its noisiness, however - and because
of it - it stands out from the rest of the disc with its own
'punk' appeal, and Staddon is very enthusiastically
applauded by the audience.
There are three works for soprano in the programme. Jay Capperauld
takes a text of Ludwig Rellstab's, famously set by Schubert
in his Schwanengesang, D.957: 'Aufenthalt', which
Capperauld has given the curiously tautological title, Sojourn
Aufenthalt. His treatment of it is powerful, melodic but darkly
ominous, with some frightening crashing chords towards the end
from pianist Theodoros Iosifidis, and it is well sung in reasonable
German by Fiona Wilkie, who has an incredibly Wagnerian voice.
Soprano Jessica Leary's German, on the other hand, is
pretty shabby, which surely reflects rather badly on her tutors.
In Anna Shucksmith's Die Nachtblume - most famously set
(as 'Die Nacht') by Hugo Wolf in his Eichendorff-Lieder
- she mispronounces almost every '-ie-' as '-ei-',
turning "wie die" ('as the') into the
nonsensical "wei dei" and "Liebesklagen"
('heartache') into a word meaning something like
"physical complaints". Her pronunciation and enunciation
are sloppy throughout, although her voice sounds as though it
could yet yield a career. The piano part is more successful,
Shucksmith's song very much in the lieder tradition,
but with some cool jazzy riffs indicating its post-modern ambient.
Lewis Murphy's Am Turme is an adventurously Schoenbergian
setting of the poem by one of Germany's most important
19th century female poets, Annette von Droste-Hülshoff. Unfortunately
the booklet gives only the conductor's name - not the
singer's or the players'! Though the atonal idiom
of the song may not be to everyone's taste, Murphy's
piece is highly atmospheric and brimming with fine touches that
bode well for his future.
Last but not least, Steve Forman is a well-known Los Angeles
career percussionist who joined the RCS to focus on composition.
His Gill's Delirium is another work about illness, "a
quiet little song of someone's illusions and delusions".
Forman's description of manic depression is itself painful
to read, thanks to the cringe-inducing youth-parlance it is
couched in, but the unusually-scored piece itself is fairly
bright and upbeat, not to mention typically percussion- and
Though these are all live recordings, sound quality is very
good. Some of the tracks end with boisterous applause, but generally
the audience is rather well behaved. The accompanying booklet
has a couple of paragraphs of notes per item, although there
is not necessarily much information in them. What there is is
not always illuminating: "Timothy Miles is a composer from
Nashua, New Hampshire, which is part of New England, which is
in the United States"! There is nothing on any of the performers.
Overall, this is a disc that will appeal primarily to the students
and teachers of the RCS, and their friends and families. On
the other hand, no one interested in a career in composition
or with a general interest in new music will come to any grief
from acquiring it, and may well find themselves enjoying the
One final question: with so much new music coming from the students
of the RCS's Composition Department, why is this CD only
fifty minutes long?
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