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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


James DILLON (b 1950)
Parjanya-vata (1981)
Dreamwork (1996)
String Quartet no 2 (1992)
Vernal Showers (1992)
Arditti String Quartet/ Nieuw Ensemble cond. Ed Spanjaard.
rec 1993/94 at BBC MV Studio 1 & in Nijmegen 1994
MONTAIGNE/ AUVIDIS/NAÏVE MO 782046 [66 mins]
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This assemblage of performances, recorded 1993/94 at BBC MV Studio 1 & in Nijmegen 1994 (Vernal Showers), is a valuable collection of first recordings of music for strings by the Scottish-born composer James Dillon (b.1950) at his most accessible - if, as Charles Ives said, you have got your ears fitted on right, and are not repelled by prevailing dissonance, extended techniques and extreme unrepentant modernism.

I cannot explain (nor do I understand) how Dillon's music is conceived and composed, but there is always plenty to engage the untutored ear and beauty if you can hear it. If you are nervous of making an adventurous investment, sample first how the Arditti's founder-member cellist Rohan de Saram despatches the 'rugged, austere and convulsive' Parjanya-vata, with its links with Indian raga and 'labyrinthine synthesis' of all that a cello can be asked to do. Next, try the delights (to my attuned ears) of the twelve epigrammatic miniatures of Dreamwork, the most important recent addition to the fairly slender two violin repertoire.

The string quartet is the most arresting of his three, a single span in an ABCDCBA arch form of contrasting sections (we are told that the short B & D sections are of c.80" duration; it would have been far more helpful to have given listeners a guide map of section timings within the 17'30" track) which culminates in 'earlier materials overwhelmed by a whirl of virtuoso figurations'. Vernal Shower is effectively a concerto for violin with the exotically constituted Nieuw Ensemble, which has guitar, mandolin, harpsichord and harp in its regular line up.

All the music is seemingly impossible, but despatched by Irvine Arditti and his colleagues with aplomb and apparent ease in excellent recorded sound; the debt we owe to them and to Montaigne/Auvidis/Naïve for perpetuating so many of their unique performances on CD http://www.ardittiquartet.com/disc2.htm is incalculable.

Peter Grahame Woolf




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