CRESSWELL Music For String Quartet
Born in New Zealand though long resident in Edinburgh, Lyell Cresswell (b1944) is among those ‘well-respected if not widely known’ composers whose work is both approachable and unpredictable. This new disc of (mainly) string quartet music offers a chance to find out why.
A fine instance is Capricci (2014), its 10 short movements ranging widely and imaginatively over traditional dance forms and rhythms. Highlights include the third, a graceful ‘Siciliana’ informed by reticent humour; the sixth, an engaging play on Ligeti-like ostinato patterns that fully lives up to its ‘Sprocket’ title; and the ninth, a ‘Brawl’ rendering its round-dance origins with graphic immediacy. At under 20 minutes these pieces are best heard in the context of the set overall, as also are Ricercari (2016). Among the nine miniatures for violin and cello, the odd-numbered ones are variations on a ‘theme’ that comes closest to being stated in the fifth, ‘Mesto’; themselves intercut by an animated succession of scherzos and caccias, the overall sequence is inspired by the techniques of the Italian painter Maurizio Bottarelli (b1943).
Most substantial here is the String Quartet, completed in 1981 though revised 18 years later so its original format of four movements in two parts was condensed down to three separate movements. Taking its cue from the tradition of Gaelic psalm-singing, where melodic lines are absorbed into melisma, the work unfolds from heady accumulation then dispersal of such ornaments, via a series of solos and duos, to an intense confrontation of ornamented and linear writing prior to a decisive close.
The initial ‘Mormorante’ from Kotetetete (2011, its title Maori for ‘chattering’) provides a capricious rounding-off. The virtuosity of the Red Note Ensemble’s playing makes for a warm recommendation, not least for those still to encounter Cresswell’s distinctive sound world.