Saunders Chamber Works

An encouraging‚ idea­filled début disc from a confident young British composer

Author: 
Guest

Saunders Chamber Works

  • Quartet
  • Into the Blue
  • Molly's Song 3 - shades of crimson
  • dichroic seventeen

This recording introduces a new composer to the catalogue: Rebecca Saunders (b1967). Born in London‚ a student of Nigel Osborne and of Wolfgang Rihm‚ she now lives and works in Berlin‚ and is in her mid­thirties‚ which is young in compositional terms. Her output boasts pieces for a diversity of forces; how diverse may be judged by the instrumentation of even these relatively small­scale‚ chamber pieces. Two examples will suffice: alto flute‚ viola‚ steel­stringed guitar‚ four radios and music box (Molly’s Song 3); and accordion‚ electric guitar‚ piano‚ two double basses and two percussionists (dichroic seventeen‚ which seems also to include the sound of an LP repeating its last groove‚ incessantly). On paper this might smell gimmicky‚ but the last thing one could accuse Saunders of is superficiality: on the contrary‚ this is music of great integrity and purpose.
The four pieces here were composed over a relatively short period (1995­98)‚ and a similar sound world‚ and similar strategies‚ pervade all of them. Here the influences of Lachenmann and‚ to a lesser extent perhaps‚ early Rihm are perceptible; Saunders chooses her materials as carefully and sparingly as her instruments: repeated notes or events‚ sustained notes‚ now and then repeating piano figurations reminiscent of the music boxes she seems to prize (the orchestral piece G and E on A calls for 27 of them!)‚ and an array of unstable or ‘noise­based’ sounds of all sorts. These are deployed with great precision; sometimes only one instrument at a time; and the boundary between the different sound­categories is often subtly blurred. Saunders is particularly deft at combining disparate‚ single events into larger‚ affective shapes (the first minute of Quartet for accordion‚ clarinet‚ double bass and piano is a good example). In its emphasis on the physicality of sound­sources the music has definite tactile qualities; but their articulation calls forth more ‘traditional’ values‚ shall we call them‚ of pacing and proportion‚ which are persuasively and compellingly managed. If you thought the sound of piano lids slammed shut had been consigned to music’s lumber­room (along with other accoutrements of the 1960s and ’70s)‚ then you should listen to what Saunders does with them. (The saying ‘old wine‚ new bottles’ takes on a new twist here). The composer is better known on the continent than she is in her homeland (not an uncommon occurrence in England)‚ but I hope that this CD will win her a wider audience.
As to the performance and sound recording‚ they are exemplary. Despite its reliance on the performers’ physical presence‚ Saunders’ music is admirably suited to recording. And the best compliment one can pay to musikFabrik is that they seem transparent‚ as though the music really does ‘speak for itself’. Bon vent!

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