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Eight Works by Liverpool Based Composers
music by Robin Hartwell, Jonathan Powles, Stephen Pratt, James Wishart
performed by Psappha
British Music Label BML003/034 [CD1: 49:40 - CD:2 43:03]

This 2CD set presents 8 recent works by Liverpool-based composers, these works being either for various chamber ensembles or piano solos. I must confess to having absolutely no sympathy with this music. 20 years ago together with a couple of friends we used to parody this stuff, laugh at it on Radio 3, onomatopoeically dubbing it "Zingenzi Kloingen Musik" and sometimes played our own randomly improvised versions of it. This is the real thing. 'Contemporary composers' are still churning it out, every bit as clichéd as much of the music the avant garde condemn as irrelevant and passé.

Whether for ensemble or solo piano, and regardless of the described intent and theory behind the various pieces, this all sounds essentially the same. Lugubrious, drained of all life and passion, melody and human warmth, random patterns of a-rhythmic notes scattered across the soundscape, so pathetic the joke wore off decades ago leaving detritus tedious beyond belief. It should carry a health warning: not to be listened to by anyone not of entirely sound mind. So bleak, stark, draining is this, it might be sold as "Music to Commit Suicide To". The whole is as glacially perfect as the cover photo, a Liverpool drained of humanity. The lifebelt in the foreground is almost certainly not coincidental. Work almost hateful in its despairing pretension, as if human life is no more than this, no joy can be found, only a dull red light giving no solace, like the sun on the beach at the end of Wells The Time Machine.

Recorded in Taxal Parish Church, this is exactly the opposite of any music that should ever be heard in such a place, the sound of a meaningless, uncaring universe, of a secular musical culture which has entirely lost its way, has nothing to say and insists on continuing to say it anyway, ad infinitum. In almost every piece the same distant, a-melodic piano repeats what may as well be the same uncommunicative figures, the very sound in the reverberant church acoustic seeming to drag the music into further into the darkness. The sound of the musical establishment writing to impress itself on "Music Now", while the rest of the world looks the other way, utterly alienated… and then they wonder why people don't like contemporary music.

Psappha, the booklet tells us, "is the leading contemporary music and theatre-music ensemble in the North of England." They are regularly heard on Radio 3, and have received glowing reviews. It's difficult to tell how good they are. If they played a wrong note or lost the rhythm, no one but the composer would notice. Music is dead, and here it the corpse, embalmed on two slices of plastic hell. The guilty are named and shamed above.


Gary S. Dalkin

no stars

This album can be obtained directly from

Mike Skeet, F.R.C., 44 Challacombe, Furzton, Milton Keynes, MK4 1DP
Tel +44 (0)1908 502836


Gary S. Dalkin

no stars

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