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Philip CASHIAN Dark Inventions, Chamber Concerto & other works     Mary King (mezzo-soprano) Mark van de Wiel (clarinet) Birmingham Contemporary Music Group/Stefan Asbury  NMC D061

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Dark Inventions, the latest addition to NMC's invaluable series of contemporary British composers, is enthralling from first note to last. Although Dark Inventions is not the first track, its title (which serves for the CD as a whole) strikes an immediate resonance with the bass clarinet and double bass heard in the opening gestures of Chamber Concerto (1995) for 16 instruments. This virtuosic, fleet-footed composition, which embraces references to 'a host of 20thC. figures' (Nicholas Williams) reflects Philip Cashian's studies in Wales, London & USA. With fifteen clearly demarcated brief sections, some of them genuinely fast (a pity not to have indexed them on the CD for study) and a superlative ear for instrumental timbre and combinations, it is a winner.

I would describe Cashian as an accessible post-modernist, his approach described by Williams as combining process and natural instinct, adopting what suits him from many sources. One composer whose apparent influence and finger prints are conspicuously present to me listening to this CD is Luis de Pablo, [ profile ; review ] the eminent composer and teacher of most younger Spanish composers, but I am reasonably certain that this is coincidental and no more than an example of the international spread of contemporary musical languages.

In the 1992 Dark Inventions and elsewhere Reich's influence is inescapable in hammering repeated notes, but the imaginative instrumental scoring is Cashian's own, and he is no dogmatic minimalist. Blue circus (1990/91) puts its clarinet soloist (Mark van de Wiel) through the hoops 'fast to very fast', with heterophonic accompaniment for vibraphone and one each of the four string instruments, a unique conception. … in the still hours for string ensemble (1995) is a restful interlude, with an expressive solo for the cellist Ulrich Heinen. Musica Meccanica (1994) for violin and piano follows, a compelling fast-slow-fast sequence of three pieces, the last with a jagged ostinato, winding down to finish quietly with violin harmonics, brilliantly realised by Lyn Fletcher and Sally Bishop. Finally, powerful evocations of solitary rail travel in settings of Louis MacNeice, So lonely for voice and string quartet, sung with exemplary clarity by Mary King.

Despite its variety (five years can be a long time in a young composer's development) this CD easily holds the attention played straight through, and it will be one to come back to. With NMC's usual meticulous production standards, full documentation and fine recording in Birmingham by Mike Clements, at mid-price, this is an unmissable purchase recommendation.


Peter Grahame Woolf

Philip Cashian's 1st String Quartet is included on NMC D006 and his work with amateurs and children is represented in the NMC/Associated Board Spectrum NMC D057 .


David Wright



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