From Score to Sound

Examining line and colour

Album notes

Track list
1 Blue-Green Hill Judith Weir 12' 58"
2 Backslap Boobytrap Colin Riley 4' 45"
3 Dark Inventions Philip Cashian 12' 16"
4 Visiones (after Goya) Martin Suckling 11' 54"
5 Cimmerian Nocturne Philip Grange 15' 29"

Following the theme of line and melody that guided the Score to Sound project, this CD brings together a series of works that explore these ideas in contrasting ways.

Blue-Green Hill is the most directly melodic of the works presented here. Its three movements are played with only minimal gaps, each containing melodies that are presented and then developed throughout. The cello introduces the theme of the first movement unambiguously, contrasting melodic flourishes and longer notes that – along with the piano’s repeated chords – set out the building blocks of the movement. These ideas are developed and augmented as melodies interweave across the ensemble.

A rhythmic piano solo juxtaposing triplet and quaver rhythms begins the middle movement. The winds and strings enter, providing a rhythmic and melodic counterpoint to this jaunty line and play almost exclusively in rhythmic unison, often moving in parallel lines to create a harmonically rich melodic strain. The piano begins to exchange material with the other instruments, gradually coalescing on similar ideas until a final section emerges in which all instruments support the same melody.

The final movement introduces further new melodic ideas. Again, it is the contrast between layering of related lines and the juxtaposition of different ideas that drives the music forward. The same inventiveness is present here that we hear throughout the earlier parts of the piece.

A much starker, minimal soundworld is inhabited by Backslap Boobytrap. Rhythmic processes and varied repetition characterise the piece, as syncopated pulsations of chords turn into a web of harmonies and melodies. A pulse is difficult to discern from the sparse opening, giving a spacious, timeless quality, but with increasing rhythmic regularity a groove starts to emerge. Further melodic ideas are layered on top and become more important as the music moves forward: the variation is gradual and subtle, as if the same object is being observed from multiple viewpoints.

Dark Inventions begins mysteriously with a single note in the alto flute, decorated by the complex sonority of five tuned gongs. This pitch becomes a tonal centre, remaining the focus as the flute gradually unwinds a sinuous line that recruits every other instrument in turn. The reverberant opening section builds in energy until flourishes across the ensemble transform the static, repeating ideas into something more dynamic. Instruments play the same rhythm to create a section with a strong sense of direction. As in the opening, it is the changing combinations of sonorities that creates a great deal of the interest here. Underneath, the piano continues to complicate this texture with different rhythms: a tension is created between a world of rhythmic certainty and one of ambiguity. These are, in essence, the two states between which the piece fluctuates.

A third section follows, returning to the slow unwinding line of the opening. The timbre of the gongs is enhanced by low piano chords, their changing sonorities providing a dark drone over which a long melody in the cello and bass clarinet unfolds. The marimba joins, its low range matching that of the bass clarinet and cello, as fragmented rising and falling patterns punctuate the long lines and give the impression of a faster pulse. Instruments join, and by the end of this section the long melodic line has become an interweaving set of parts – the flute, clarinet and cello – whilst the accompanying lines of the piano and marimba have grown in intensity to become an almost constant stream of notes. Although the texture is dense, it can be understood in the terms in which it began, as a dialogue between a slow melody and fast accompaniment (the two contrasting material types at the core of the piece). The piece closes with a section reminiscent of the opening.

There are dynamic tensions in Dark Inventions between fast and slow, low and high, and dark and light. These tensions are played out vertically – one type of material on top of the other – as well as horizontally, with one type gradually shifting to its opposite. The potential energy between contrasting states gives this work its momentum.

The three instruments of Visiones – after Goya each find their own way through this mysterious music, working individually, in various pairs and as the full trio. The piece is in three sections, each exploring different versions of a set of interlinked materials.

From the very outset, the linearity of the music is set up as the cello and clarinet orbit around a handful of notes, weaving lines in and out of each other. The use of quarter tones – intervals smaller than the usual semitone – unlocks a wider possible array of harmonies and melodies, although the limited use of these extra pitches creates a coherent scale to which we soon become accustomed.

The piano plays dance-like rhythms and pirouettes with resonant flourishes that contrast with the lines of the clarinet and cello, which gradually expand, taking on further melodic inflections in each successive phrase. The counterpoint of the trio becomes increasingly complex until the piano eventually descends to its lower range, giving the music a more stable grounding as the others take off in declamatory rhythmic unison. The dialogue between these lines and the piano continues, the accompaniment now taking the form of a series of chords that jump around the instrument’s entire range, conjuring a halo of resonance.

The opening melody appears suddenly, this time in the piano, now constrained by the instrument’s inability to play microtones. The clarinet and cello shadow the piano, enhancing the harmonic field created by its resonance through microtonal inflection. Two outbursts from the clarinet and cello separate three variations on this basic material in which each player moves through related lines. A fourth section sees the piano give a greater sense of harmonic grounding with a slow line in its lower register, before the outburst from the clarinet and cello returns.

The final part breaks down the melodic and harmonic material heard thus far as each instrument acts independently: the piano provides a slow melody and fragments of its opening dance figures; the clarinet moves through a series of multiphonics; the cello combines extended techniques to create an array of colourful virtuosic flourishes.

Cimmerian Nocturne can be heard as a series of interlinked sections, each building in material and intensity before giving way to the next. The first sets out a static twelve-note chord underneath repeated outbursts from the solo piccolo. The second contrasts this with linear development emanating from a long cantus melody which begins in the bass clarinet, with occasional interruptions from the ensemble. The cello joins in, moving in dialogue with the clarinet as other instruments gradually add detail and provide further interruptions.

The clarinet remains the focus in the next section whilst a new texture comprising brittle accompanying sounds grows in volume and complexity, the piano bridging the gap between each layer and adding to both. The drums grow to take on a driving rhythmic role before powering towards a virtuosic solo climax. Once the energy dissipates, the long melodic line is picked up again, now on the alto flute. A gradual upward shift in pitch sees the melody winding itself back to the opening piccolo gesture as the piece ends where it began.

–– Martin Scheuregger