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
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
Peter Grahame Woolf