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Timothy SALTER (b.1942)
Aerial (2008) [11:06]
Piano Quartet (2006) [15:29]
String Quartet No. 2 (1983) [10:46]
Nephele Ensemble, Ensemble na Mara, Auriol String Quartet rec. 2010, St Mary’s Church, Platt, Kent; 2007 Norden Farm, Maidenhead; 1985 St Paul’s School for Girls, London
USK 1230CD [37:44]

At the outset, I should make it known that Timothy Salter was my composition Professor at the Royal College of Music in the late 1990s. Salter is a kind and unassuming man, with a deservedly successful career and distinctive compositional voice.
 
His works demonstrate a concentrated economy of means and overall cohesion. There is never a sense of a note too many or an overused idea. His instincts for structure mean that the listener has a clear sense of the trajectory of a piece throughout. Salter’s works are crafted with care and attention to detail, and his harmonic language is coherent and well defined.
 
His titles reveal the overall character of each movement. In the flute quartet Aerial each movement - agitated, calm and exuberant - does exactly as these titles suggest. The first is a flowing piece which shares interweaving melodic lines in a form of instrumental conversation. The flute is sometimes treated as a soloist and at other times joins the strings in a sense of overall unity. The instrumental timbres offset each other well, and the scoring demonstrates an excellent understanding of orchestration. The balancing of the string chords in the second movement gives a rich sonority which the flute soars above with space and elegance. The final movement has echoes of the first, but with more aggressive accents and a stronger rhythmic drive. This is an extremely enjoyable piece which deserves a place in the repertoire. I for one would be very happy to find an opportunity to perform it.
 
This recording features the excellent Nephele Ensemble, who commissioned the work. Although the overall balance is very slightly bass-heavy, the ensemble playing is first rate, and the performers approach the music with a commendable sense of energy and understanding. Salter’s work is well communicated, and I was thoroughly convinced throughout.
 
The Piano Quartet was composed in 2006, and the strong, dissonant opening demands attention. The second movement is much more gentle in character, with some beautifully eerie harmonies and a developing sense of tension. The finale reflects its title “with nervous energy”, with the use of short fragments of agile material passed between the ensemble, interspersed with strong accents and moving textures. The end is almost as abrupt as the work’s opening, and elicits a smile. The work is expertly performed here by another talented young ensemble, this time Ensemble na Mara, which was formed in 2003 and champions contemporary music alongside the established repertoire.
 
The final work on this disc is Salter’s Second String Quartet, written in 1983 and recorded in 1985 by the Auriol Quartet. It is interesting to hear one of Salter’s earlier works alongside two more recent pieces. There are clear parallels, most notably in the use of the instruments and the harmonic language. The textures are also similar, although the earlier work feels a little heavier overall and one can hear Salter’s refinement of language over time. That is not to detract from the quartet however. In a single movement form, this piece demonstrates, as the composer describes in the sleeve-notes, ‘a single continuous argument, controlled by the accumulation and release of tension’. This is handled extremely well, and the melodic ideas that arise and appear throughout help to provide a sense of this developing trajectory. The mood-changes are effective and at times exhilarating. Salter seems to have an instinct for the pacing of mood which keeps the music fresh and engaging throughout. Although the piece is nearly 11 minutes long, it felt much shorter, and I could very happily have heard more. The Auriol provide a highly convincing performance.
 
This snapshot of Salter’s compositional output demonstrates his ability to write convincing and highly effective works for the main chamber music instrumental combinations. All of these works deserve their place on the concert platform. The performances here are put together with the same care and attention to detail as the compositions themselves, and communicate Salter’s music effectively and with competence.
 
Carla Rees

Previous review (piano quartet): Jonathan Woolf 


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