CRANE Chamber Works 1992 - 2009
It’s 4.30 in the morning and you sit in an airport lounge feeling dazed and displaced, reflecting on the fact that Dixons is open and you could if you wanted, at this unusually early hour, and in a synthetic environment that exists only as a point of transit, buy an iPad. The likelihood of your actually buying an iPad is of course virtually nil. This hint of familiarity – a familiar high-street name but placed out of context – doesn’t encourage you to bring any of your thoughts or ideas to a resolute conclusion. And so you sit and ponder. Music by the Oxford-born composer Laurence Crane sounds like this.
Crane slots into a clear lineage of British modern composition. Like John White, Christopher Fox, Howard Skempton and Michael Parsons, Crane has digested the hard-fought-for lessons of pioneering UK composers such as Cornelius Cardew and Michael Finnissy. His experience of this music has sharpened his structural antennae and his sense of how tonal patterns, to coin a phrase, can cross a chromatic field. There are also explicit roots in Satie, Cage and Feldman; Crane’s music is unashamedly tonal but with the syntax and grammar of tonality completely rethought and deliberately garbled.
And it’s true. Occasionally during this two-hour set you yearn for a Monty Python foot or a flying Finnissy forearm cluster. A streak of sonic disobedience, you conclude, would do no harm to the design-perfection of these 14 instrumental miniatures, played with cotton-gloved neatness. The first sound you hear is clarinettist Andrew Sparling beginning the dedicated piece Sparling that Crane wrote for him in 1992 with a quizzical, rising melodic interval that feels as lonely as the prairies. Guitarist Alan Thomas answers with a sequence of conventional(ish) tonal chords that themselves sound confused to be sitting in alignment; then Sparling’s line turns the corner to occupy a note that, temporarily, puts everything into order.
Seven Short Pieces – for a typical Crane ensemble of bass flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano – hints at puncturing the serene surface with percussive tapping and abrupt contrasts of register; the solo-piano Ethiopian Distance Runners, played by Philip Thomas, is the longest piece here, the extreme tension between nursery-rhyme lines and incongruous harmonic backdrop taking you from the airport lounge towards take-off.