WHITLEY I Am I Say
If not an unknown quantity, Kate Whitley (b1989) is still little known on the wider UK music scene and this latest of NMC’s invaluable Debut Discs deserves to bolster her reputation. Not least in the chamber domain, where she evinces real insight into instrumental character. The Three Pieces for violin and piano (2013) explore timbral and textural limits in terms of pithy motifs and concise forms amounting to a sonata malgré-lui not unlike that by Janáček; and if the Five Piano Pieces (2014) feels too self-contained to become a cohesive cycle, the Duo for violin and viola (2015) impresses in its supplely intertwining melodic lines with discreet multi-stopping and succeeds as a musical representation of the Brzeska sculpture that inspired it.
Of the two larger works, the Viola Concerto (2010) uses a recurring phrase to integrate its four succinct movements with their pointed contrasts in orchestration. This latter is precisely realised by the Multi-Story Orchestra, who also take on the less intricate yet resourceful scoring for I am I say (2016). Conceived for soprano and bass soloists, as well as a children’s choir drawn here from three primary schools, these verses by Sabrina Mahfouz (with a final one by the choir) marry ecological awareness to a whimsy that recalls Lizette W Reese; reflected in music whose underlying repetition is offset by subtle variations in emphasis on course to a final section which makes explicit its message in the deftest of expressive terms.
Performances are finely attuned to the music at hand, with succinct notes on each piece and an introduction from Kerry Andrew. Make no mistake, Kate Whitley is a composer to watch.