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Thursday, April 20, 2006
Jerwood Series 2
Jerwood Series 2
London Sinfonietta
Martyn Brabbins, conductor
Mark van de Wiel, clarinet
Valerie Hartmann-Claverie, Bruno Perrault, ondes martenots
Louise Hopkins, Cello

1. Dark Room (2003) by Morgan Hayes

2. Smear (2005) by Jonny Greenwood

3. Fifth Station (2003) by Dai Fujikura

This is the second in a projected series of six CDs recorded by the London Sinfonietta and underwritten by the Jerwood Charitable Foundation. It includes three works, each featuring one or more soloists, commissioned and premiered by the Sinfonietta and written by composers ages 29-34. Martyn Brabbins conducts the group which, as usual, is impeccably prepared, playing with vigor and clarity throughout.

Morgan Hayes' Dark Room features clarinetist Mark van de Wiel, whose intensity of approach and stentorian high notes well suit the dramatic character of the solo part. The piece combines a flexible and varied pitch language with a block-like, almost Stravinskyian approach to form. In his program note, Hayes mentions being interested in referencing two opposing ideas in the piece: ruins in decay and a photographic image coming into focus in a darkroom. Thus, the pandiatonic, dancing music of the piece's opening gradually devolves over its course into a more fragmented, modernist presentation, with a concomitantly more dissonant language. What comes into focus, it appears, is an antagonistic struggle for primacy between the soloist and the various sections of the Sinfonietta. The clarinet's long held notes are set against interjections from brass, percussion, and strings. Even van de Wiel's fellow winds, particularly the oboe, get into the act, competing in counterpoint with the soloist. Eventually, the oboist and clarinetist decide to "take their ball and go home," finishing with flourishes from offstage.

Dai Fujikura's Fifth Station presents a similarly competitive relationship between soloist and ensemble, but this one is acted out all over the hall; the piece explores spatial separation. It features soloist Louise Hopkins, who is one of only two musicians appearing onstage; the rest of the players are dispersed throughout the performance space. Hopkins is given an expressive solo part, filled with swooping runs and sustained notes; her interpretation doesn't eschew the romantic component of some of the gestures, but she maintains an incisive delivery in the combative portions of the work, of which there are many. The solo cello is pitted against near-constant interruptions from the ensemble, which indulges in held notes of their own, brash verticals, and angularly dissonant linear gestures. Fujikura creates consistently interesting juxtapositions of material, creating a dramatic narrative out of what could easily become a one-trick pony - especially in two-channel; indeed, one wishes for a surround version of this piece in order to better appreciate the exciting antiphonal writing of Fifth Station's galloping finale.

Jonny Greenwood may be best known for his work as a member of the rock group Radiohead, but he was trained as a classical musician as well; he's been responsible for many inspired choices of instrumentation on the bands' albums OK Computer, Kid A, and Hail to the Thief. Smear shows that the Sinfonietta's commissioning of Greenwood was no mere publicity stunt; it is a colorful, imaginative piece. The work features two ondes martenots, those venerable but expressive instruments from the dawn of the electronic music age, played by Valerie Hartmann-Claverie and Bruno Perrault.

Smear's opening suggests the aptness of its title; a gradual accumulation of glissandi, trills, and wails builds into a wall of blurred cacophony. This is succeeded by a sci-fi cadenza for the soloists. The second half of the piece features French-inspired harmonies contemporaneous to the invention of the martenots (think Honegger, etc.), scored for lush strings and soft gongs. Solo winds and violin dovetail with the martenots, regularly interrupted by microtonal "smears" along the way. The piece concludes in a soaring, ecstatic climb towards the stratosphere.

As Greenwood suggests in his program note, the ondes martenot is an instrument with impressive capabilities that has been unjustly neglected. One hopes that more composers, some perhaps due to hearing this piece, come to share Greenwood's enthusiasm for the instrument and employ it in their own work. Given the high quality of the three pieces featured on this recording, one looks forward to the rest of the Jerwood series with keen anticipation.


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