Songs from the Exotic
Tapestry was formed about ten years ago, after its members had performed (of course) Schubert's The Shepherd on the Rock and wondered whether there was much else for this particular combination. That in its turn led to commissioning, and about 60 new works have been the result. What fun they've been having, if this selection is anything to go by. Michael Finnissy's Newcassel Sangs are the most immediately striking pieces here, but so they would be in pretty well any company. The nearest I can get to describing them is to say that if Stravinsky had been a Geordie this is how his Pribaoutki would have sounded: there is rough humour to some of them, but pungency and anger as well: they are quite gripping. It says a good deal for Sandra Lissenden that she realizes that they need a quite different quality of voice from (say) the silvery pre-Raphaelite sound appropriate to Howard Skempton's extended Mary Webb setting (a cunning example of real minimalism).
Haflidi Hallgrimsson's and Judith Weir's short-cycles are both rooted (but not pot-bound) in folk music: both demonstrate that it can be vitally fruitful, he in a queer little nonsense-song for children, she throughout her four songs with the strong lines and spellbinding simplicity that are characteristic of her. Gabriel Jackson, too, proves that it is still possible to use very few notes and a memorable tune without seeming derivative. Sadie Harrison's and Aidan Fisher's pieces are tougher, hers not quite as epigrammatic and well-wrought as the Japanese poems she uses, he surely over-reacting to his text, eight minutes of gesturing for a four-line squib. Nick Hayes and Laurence Crane provide encore pieces that I imagine have already brought houses down: The Basket is catchy, euphonious, teasingly not quite as repetitive as it sounds; Balanescu (full title I Saw Alexander Balanescu in Safeways) is as minimal as you can get, and irresistibly droll. Expert performances throughout; the recordings are a touch dry and close.