TURNAGE Undance. Crying Out Loud. No Let Up
As Paul Griffiths suggests in his booklet-note, the sheer rhythmic quality of Mark-Anthony Turnage’s music makes it surprising he had not been writing ballet music from the outset of his career. Two of the pieces on this new NMC disc are in fact concert commissions and only choreographed at a later date. Written for the Ensemble Modern, Crying Out Loud (2002) is among his most Stravinskian works in the way melodic elements seem constantly undercut and even subverted by a rhythmic framework whose sheer ruthlessness finally silences the more ‘human’ quality. Shorter and more systematic, No Let Up (2003) features an ensemble of wind and percussion in chamber music whose dialogue evinces a distinctly sardonic edge.
Only with UNDANCE (2011) did Turnage take the plunge directly into ballet, in collaboration with the artist Mark Wallinger and choreographer Wayne McGregor – with a little help from Robert Sierra’s verb pairings (akin to Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies cards), whose headings are the titles of each of the ballet’s eight sections. It is the even-numbered among these which leave the most lasting impression: thus the ironic walking-bass motion of ‘to walk/to run’, the plaintive elegy of ‘to slide/to fall’, the lithe canonic interplay of ‘to catch/to hop’ and, finally, the fugal accumulation of ‘to turn/to cover’, which climaxes in a decisive chordal apotheosis.
A fearlessly committed account from the UNDANCE Band certainly presents this latter piece in the most favourable light, but the readings of those earlier works by the Rambert Orchestra cannot be faulted for their commitment. Upfront though never constricted sound is a further enhancement, as is Sarah Crompton’s booklet essay on the birth of UNDANCE. A pity that Trespass, Turnage’s subsequent ballet score for the Royal Ballet, could not be included here but hopefully that and maybe the string quartet Twisted Blues with Twisted Ballad (arguably its composer’s strongest instrumental work in recent years) will find their way on to a future NMC release. In the meantime, the present disc can receive the warmest of recommendations.