Stephen WHITTINGTON (b. 1953)
Music for Airport Furniture (2011) [22:47]
Zephyr Quartet (Belinda Gehlert and Emily Tulloch (violins); Jason Thomas (viola); Hilary Kleinig (cello)
rec. January-February 2013, Elder Conservatorium of Music, University of Adelaide
COLD BLUE MUSIC CB0038 [22:47]
As with other releases with the enterprising Cold Blue label, this is categorised as a ‘CD Single’, so with just one work and a compact playing time this is a pocket-sized production with global ambitions.
The gatefold packaging doesn’t give much information, but Stephen Wittington’s Wikipedia entry shows a substantial reputation and body of work. His sleeve comments about Music for Airport Furniture are a useful orientation to the musical content: “I was interested in the airport departure lounge as an arena for human emotions - boredom, apprehension, hope, despair, loneliness, the tenderness of farewells - all taking place within a bland, often desolate space.”
This is expressed in slow moving and sustained chords, with close harmonies leaning towards gentle dissonances which are usually resolved through single melodic shifts - often a descent of a major or minor second. These are not static events, but a connected sequence which has its own logic and direction, engaging an empathetic response through a mood of quiet melancholy - moments of Janáček-like beauty extended and expanded into a work with considerable introspective strength.
By way of ‘if you like this, you may also like’ hints, I was reminded a little of works such as Michael Nyman’s Third String Quartet or Howard Skempton’s Lento. The more open central melodic section has moments which have a more overtly romantic feel, and the sense of organic development in the work and feel of a ‘Golden Section’ climactic structure ensures that it maintains interest throughout. The Zephyr Quartet performs with magnificent restraint and the recording is excellent. Yes, you will almost certainly come away from this feeling more ‘blue’ than when you started, but we all need pieces which can express these kinds of emotions, and Stephen Whittington has them nailed.