Sidney CORBETT (b.1960)
Absconditus, for violin and cello (2011) [15:01]
Detroit Chronicles, for violin and piano (1995) [20:02]
Schneetod, for violin, mezzo and piano (2005) [7:00]
Nova Angeletta, for violin and mezzo (1996) [5:16]
Archipel Chagall I, for violin (1998) [23:47]
Sarah Plum (violin); Jonathan Ruck (cello); Timothy Lovelace (piano);
Patricia Green (mezzo)
rec. Blue Griffin Ballroom Studio, 2011. DDD
BLUE GRIFFIN RECORDING BGR 235 [72:10]
Rather unusually for an independent label, the performer gets
star billing here: turn over the front cover of the digipak-style
case and violinist Sarah Plum's name appears in the same font
and font-size as the CD title Absconditus. Open the
booklet and first comes a two-page biography of Plum - turn
over for Sidney Corbett. Never mind, though, because they have
been friends for a good many years. This disc is the product
of much collaboration, not least the fact that the title work
was written expressly for Plum to record for it.
Such back-seat positioning may well be behind Germany-based
Corbett's relative obscurity, though it may come as a
surprise to learn that he actually has a reasonable discography
under him, not to mention a substantial body of works dating
back to 1983.
This disc offers a generous selection of his more recent chamber
music, the proviso being that Plum's violin is involved.
All but Detroit Chronicles are described as first recordings,
although the track listing labels only Absconditus
as a premiere.
A prominent quotation in the booklet and on Corbett's
website, which appeared in the Berliner Zeitung last year, states
that "Possibly no composer today writes more beautiful
music than Sidney Corbett ... whose attractive sonorities are
intricately woven and compel close listening." That is
a big claim indeed and one which, in all likelihood, the typical
music-lover raised on Mozart, Tchaikovsky or Debussy will not
find substantiated by the music on this CD. These chamber works
have an asceticism that will likely prove simply too 'modern'
So much will be apparent from the very first seconds of the
plunky, wheezy atonality of Absconditus, although in
fairness to Corbett he admits to trying something new in this
work, and "seeking sounds behind the sounds". Timothy
Lovelace's piano replaces Jonathan Ruck's cello
for Detroit Chronicles, but the effect is similar.
That said, Plum provides numerous long lyrical lines on the
violin, the piano is notably more disjointed, and evidence of
the stylistic influence of Corbett's teacher György Ligeti
begins to accrue.
What is also apparent so far is that Corbett's music
has a tendency towards dark and despair, an impression that
is hardly likely to be dispelled by Schneetod, his
aptly austere setting of a poem by the seventeen-year-old son
of a friend, the 'Snow Death' referring not to
avalanches but to a cocaine overdose. Patricia Green sings pretty
well in German, but alas for the listener there is neither original
nor translation to follow in the booklet. The piano drops out
for the brief Nova Angeletta, a setting of Petrarch,
but the bleak mood continues. This seven-hundred-year-old text
is obviously in the public domain, and short, so this time there
is no excusing its omission from the booklet. Green's
Italian diction is also very good, and her heavy voice conveys
well the mystical quality of the text.
The final work, the six-movement Archipel Chagall I
for solo violin, is arguably the most accessible piece: still
fairly flinty and stark, yet bewitchingly atmospheric. When
push comes to shove, there are many living composers writing
music that is more instantly accessible than Corbett's:
more tonal, more melodic, more structured, more 'old
school'. Yet his is nevertheless compelling, at least
for those who enjoy that kind of thing, in its allusiveness,
its layered complexity and its indelible aura of mystery.
Sarah Plum has long been a staunch advocate for contemporary
music, and has a longstanding familiarity with Corbett's
in particular - last year, for example, she gave the American
premiere of his violin concerto, Yaël. She gives
a suitably terrific account of all these pieces, with fine support
from the other soloists, easily navigating the often difficult
terrain with aplomb.
Sound quality is very good, if rather reverberant and close
- there is no obvious need to hear Plum's every intake
of breath. The booklet is neat and informative, with notes on
the works by Corbett himself.
Collected reviews and contact at reviews.gramma.co.uk