READ THOMAS Chamber and Piano Works
This disc of chamber and piano works by Augusta Read Thomas follows on from that of her orchestral music (4/14) in reaffirming the consistency as well as the versatility of her idiom. Of the six chamber pieces, Ring Flourish Blaze is a fanfare of Varèse-like pungency, while A Circle Around the Sun (both 2000) is a piano trio whose two movements pointedly open out the music’s tensile expression. Toft Serenade (2006) is a similarly compressed violin sonata whose relatively slow then fast movements comprise a finely poised duality, whereas Scat (2007) underlines the composer’s interest in jazz with a breezy interplay between oboe, piano and string trio redolent of a ‘jam session’. Double Helix is an inward dialogue for two violins, its eloquence intensified in Pilgrim Soul (both 2011) with its inspiration in Yeats, a study in linear expansion where the cor anglais both anticipates and echoes the interweaving violins.
The three piano pieces make for a viable conspectus of Thomas’s musical evolution over the intervening 17 years. The Six Etudes (1996) is a set of homages to mentors and colleagues – ranging from the slowly dissolving sonorities of that to Luciano Berio in ‘Orbital Beacons’, via the spare eventfulness of that to Feldman in ‘Rain at Funeral’, to the unexpectedly jazzy verve of that to Pierre Boulez in ‘On Twilight’. Traces (2007) then takes the allusive process further with such unlikely and yet enticing concoctions as Ástor Piazzolla crossed with John Coltrane in the distinctly hard-bopping ‘Tango’ or Thelonious Monk crossed with Chopin in the deceptively understated ‘Impromptu’. Starlight Ribbons (2013) is the most extended piece on this disc – what might be termed a ‘rhapsody’ in which a host of allusions (never quotations) are vividly integrated by dint of some resourceful and idiomatic piano-writing.
Throughout this programme, the performances (mostly by the dedicatees or those who gave the premiere) are unfailingly responsive to Thomas’s finely wrought and bracingly immediate language, while the sound betrays little evidence of having been compiled from a variety of sources. Those who have acquired the earlier disc will need no prompting with its successor.