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Eddie McGUIRE (b. 1948)
Elegy (1991) [12.35]
Euphoria (1980) [16.03]
String Trio (1986) [12.50]
Entangled Fortunes (2002) [10.16]
Quintet 2 (1987) [15.43]
Red Note Ensemble (Jacqueline Shave (violin); Jane Atkins (viola); Robert Irvine (cello); Ruth Morley (flute/piccolo/alto flute); Yann Ghiro (clarinet/bass clarinet); Simon Smith (piano); Tom Hunter (percussion))
rec. 2014, St Mary's Church, Whitekirk, East Lothian. DDD
DELPHIAN DCD34157 [67:31]

The Scottish composer Eddie McGuire has long been one of the most engaged and engaging creative musicians on the scene. His practical experience includes playing flute in the folk band The Whistlebinkies, he is clearly highly skilled in writing for a wide range of instruments and his music usually seems well grounded in reality. Four out of the five pieces of chamber music on this disc hit the spot with me, which is a fair percentage.

The first, Elegy for piano trio, was composed in memory of McGuire's father. It starts with pizzicato and quiet piano playing and features fast-moving music against slower music, a lovely effect. It is full of interesting textures and rhythms. From Andrew Stewart's note we learn that the scraps of tunes which emerge from the textures - often from quite intricate passages, the way memories do - are 'songs my father's male voice choir used to rehearse in our home in my pre-teenage years', in McGuire's words. Like several of the works here, Elegy features glissandi and dies away quietly.

Euphoria, for piano trio, flute (doubling piccolo and alto flute), clarinet (doubling bass clarinet) and percussion, was apparently McGuire's optimistic response to the beginning of the 1980s, not a good time for people on the left of the political spectrum. He sets up an ostinato against which things happen, but the piece, in seven sections, is by no means unvaried: it is replete with rhythmic subtleties and textural changes. Among other things it has a slow section, a scherzo-like section and a Scottish-flavoured section. It ends quietly.

String Trio, for the usual violin, viola and cello, is also in seven sections playing continuously. Based on two sets of six notes each, it starts slowly and again is full of fascinating effects and textures, including echo effects. It has a highly rhythmic scherzo episode and I found myself wishing McGuire had developed it further - it runs to just 13 minutes.

Entangled Fortunes, which lends its name to the entire programme, is for piano trio and clarinet. It leaves me with the overall impression of a slightly quarrelsome scherzo, but a lot happens in its ten minutes. It takes in folk-like elements, has dance rhythms among its various rhythmic changes and ends abruptly.

For me the last piece, Quintet 2, for piano trio, flute and clarinet and yet again in seven sections, is arm's-length music, the kind of thing that has pushed contemporary music out of the reach of the non-specialist listener. McGuire says it 'marked a return to more dramatic, atonal music'. I am afraid I missed the drama but I did catch a lot of sounds and phrases that I associate more with the barren 1960s than the 1980s, when it was actually written. There are some nice textures and effects such as glissandi, but also numerous intervals that no human being would ever sing to him- or herself. The result is sometimes a bit queasy and the overall impression is rather fugitive. It ends quietly and, like everything else on the CD, is very well recorded.

Two further whinges, while I am in negative mode. I do feel a lack of sustained slow music in these five pieces. McGuire comes closer to providing it in his marvellous Nocturnes of 1999, which you can find on a miscellaneous disc performed by Mr McFall's Chamber (MMCC003). The booklet for this new Delphian disc looks nice but is a nightmare to use. You get the work titles on one page and have to turn over three more pages to find out who is playing; then you have to work out what they are playing by a system of a, b, c, d, which is inaccurate anyway - no clarinet is listed for Entangled Fortunes. Stewart's astute essay is chronological, which is fair enough, but it combines with the other confusions to have the poor listener constantly turning pages.

Tully Potter


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