G. Barry Orchestral Works

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G. Barry Orchestral Works

  • Chevaux-de-frise
  • Of Queens' Gardens
  • Flamboys
  • Sur les pointes
  • Hard D
  • Diner

You have been warned. Marco Polo’s disc comes with a sturdy, not to say alarming, endorsement from composer Kevin Volans: “This is not music for the faint-hearted. Listen to it as loud as you dare, and then some.” Indeed, my neighbours will testify that, for substantial periods, Gerald Barry steers a forceful course between forte and ffff, most especially in the longest work here, Chevaux-de-frise, premiered at the 1988 Proms. The composer seizes a military metaphor to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the Armada – the title refers to a seventeenth-century anti-cavalry spike – and propels us into an almost unremitting 17 minutes of activity and alarum.
Surprisingly, given Barry’s reputation for wit and ingenuity, the assorted gear-changes, rhythmic stumbles and textural fissures are less convincing than the outright brutality. This is unexpected because, as AW put it when recommending NMC’s survey of the instrumental and chamber works (4/95), the distinctive thing about Barry – for all the ostensibly “rudimentary minimalist kit” – is his cultivation of “discontinuity and contradiction”. In his writing for larger forces, the discontinuities can come across as contrived, the contradictions rather less arresting. Or is it simply that their execution has to be tighter than is sometimes the case in the present collection?
Flamboys is a less gory occasional piece in which the predominantly festive high jinks are prefaced by a finely shaded high bassoon and trumpet exchange. And Sur les pointes, a variant of the virtuosic piano solo of the same name on the NMC disc, offers the perfect antidote to the hyperbole of ‘hard’ minimalism with its equally spaced, sempre sotto voce staccato chords. Admittedly, its trial-by-rhythmic unison exposes shortcomings in the National Symphony Orchestra’s ensemble. But, given the demanding nature of this programme, particularly for the wind and brass, one can only sympathize with the musicians for surviving what must have been a punishing two-day recording schedule.
If in the last resort this is interesting rather than essential listening, uncommitted readers may yet be seduced by the more overt Irish dimension of Hard D. Decent, unspectacular sound quality.'

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