Steve Martland Anthology
This is, finally, the memorial that all of us who were admirers of Steve Martland’s music have been waiting for. His passing in 2013, before he had reached the age of 60, left a tremendous gap in British contemporary music, and this double-CD of his music deserves the widest possible circulation. Martland was, of course, a maverick. He studied in Amsterdam with Louis Andriessen, and that influence stayed with him, as he would have been the first to acknowledge. Andriessen contributes a brief text, both moving and amusing, to the booklet, incidentally; there are also other indications of just how loved Martland was, in a note by Joe Duddell and short memorial tributes from people as various as Alex Poots, Robert Katz and the late John Tavener (of whose music Martland was a great admirer).
Three of the tracks, Shoulder to Shoulder, American Invention and Crossing the Border, come from the long-unavailable but hugely significant Factory Classics disc, recorded in 1991; Patrol is from a 1993 recording and the rest was set down in 2000. While the enormous value of this anthology can only be celebrated, these dates lead one to lament the lack of more recent recordings of Martland’s work and also to wonder whether NMC have plans to reissue the Factory recording of the magnificent Babi Yar.
Both Andriessen and Duddell talk about Martland’s brilliance and sparkling wit, and that is the first thing that springs to mind on listening to the opening Horses of Instruction. It was conceived as a dance piece, and its joy is quite simply infectious. That he was capable of a slower kind of dance, of summoning music that is austere and moving, but clearly built on the same post-Dutch principles as his earlier Andriessen-inspired work, is clear in Mr Anderson’s Pavane, a haunting work in memory of the director Lindsay Anderson that also pays tribute to an earlier period of English music. So does Beat the Retreat, simultaneously an (audible) homage to Purcell and a political statement, containing some of Martland’s most arresting melodic writing – it turns into a sort of modern-day Pachelbel Canon – while Shoulder to Shoulder and American Invention, written at about the same time, are much harder-edged.
Patrol, beautifully performed here by The Smith Quartet, is in many ways one of Martland’s most remarkable works. It is Stravinskian in that it is built on canons, but quite different in sound; typical of Martland is the way he manages to get the cello to sound like a funky saxophone at the beginning of the second movement, though I think it is the extraordinary stasis of the opening of the third that is the most memorable moment. His skill at writing for strings is also apparent in the wonderful Crossing the Border, which, for all its canonic techniques and Stravinsky-Andriessen ancestry, is also a successor to the Tippett of the Concerto for Double String Orchestra. Anyone interested in the variety of British music of the 20th century should explore this outstanding release.