The words ‘sprung rhythm’ and ‘inscape’ had me thinking I was in for an hour or so of settings of Gerard Manley Hopkins. I was even happily preparing for what the critic Austin Warren once titled an essay, namely the ‘Instress of Inscape’. Whilst it’s, perhaps wisely, considered necessary to give a definition of inscape - the essential, distinctive and revelatory quality of a thing - it’s perhaps a little highfalutin of a group thus to name itself, not least because they force listeners to consult a dictionary every time they perform. My disappointment that they were not to perform Hopkins settings was, however, somewhat assuaged by the generally approachable and non-doctrinaire nature of the programming.
The three composers are all young, judging by their pictures. Nathan Lincoln-DeCusatis’ A Collection of Sand is bracing, sporting the occasional minimalist repetitions but full of incident. Its last movement (of three) is a kind of pastiche aria. Chopin Syndrome, which gets a jokey write-up in the notes, is a sort-of mash-up, to use the current lingo, though it evokes a chorale and appropriates a quasi-Polacca. There are plenty of distinctive colours in this energising piece that only reveals its source, like Britten’s Lachrymae, toward the end.
The Three Poems of Jessica Hornik is Joseph Hallman’s sole contribution. The textures here are often rather diaphanous and again there are sufficient contrasts of instrumental juxtaposition to keep the ear permanently engaged. Especially effective is the way the oboe joins soprano Abigail Lennox in their conjoined song in Postrcript: The Harebell. The other piece by Hallman is Imagined Landcsapes, waggishly if bafflingly subtitled six Lovecraftian elsewheres. It’s to do with HP Lovecraft, the fantasy and horror writer. Some of these landscapes are creepier than others. The first, certainly, evokes some unsettling sonorities from the ensemble of flute, clarinet, bassoon, string quartet and harp, but others are more tightly coiled and reflective. One has a shouted vocal moment prefacing the instrumental writing. Yet another sports a pawky, nervous March theme.
There is a second disc which is a Blu-ray audio disc (BDA). If you can play it - and I can’t - you’ll find Justin Boyer’s Auguries.
Clearly this is a release for more specialised tastes - contemporary but largely non-threatening, for voice and chamber ensemble. It’s very finely performed and well recorded.