Cryng Bird, Echoing Star
Founded in 1990, the New Music Players have since pursued an individual approach to commissioning and performance. The present disc features works written in the past three years, and by a diverse quintet of British composers. James Wood employs 12 different birdsongs and star patterns from which to derive the melodic and harmonic elements in his piece. Flute and clarinet engage with violin and cello in an intricate discourse, the piano providing an enfolding resonance in the more inward passages – the two types of musical motion finding an equivocal accommodation in the closing minutes. A striking contrast with the hectic activity of Gordon McPherson’s study in rhythmic interaction, the six musicians belatedly winding down to a general pause, only to take off anew in the final seconds. Ensemble interplay in Rowland Sutherland’s work is altogether more restrained, each instrument coming to the fore in music whose modal inflections have an attractively archaic feel – above all, the extemporised final section, its rhythmic tread evoking Spanish ‘Golden Age’ dances.
Founder and artistic director of the NMP, Edward Dudley Hughes is a composer of some individuality (his orchestral piece Crimson Flames resonates in the memory a decade on), though The Sibyl of Cumae is only a qualified success. Tom Lowenstein’s text, earthbound rather than evocative, depicts the priestess of Apollo in her various fraught emotional states. Hughes complements this with vocal writing whose declamatory and lyrical elements are ably handled by Louise Mott, and an ensemble rich in expressive detail – though continuity between the separate monologues is somewhat tenuously maintained.
More successful in this respect is Rolf Hind’s piece inspired by Vedic ritual – which, after an aggressive and fragmented opening, places the cello in a productive concertante role within the ensemble. If the final section, its stylised gong and bell timbres gradually fading into silence, seems overlong in context, the coherence of the music’s overall progress is never in doubt.
It should be added that the acoustic of St Silas the Martyr Church in North London does full justice to the ensemble’s playing, and that the booklet – with detailed notes on the composers and works performed – is a model of its kind. An enterprising disc from an enterprising ensemble – and record label – which deserves support.