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Laurence CRANE (b. 1961) Drones, Scales and Objects
Simon 10 Holt 50 (2007) [3:15]
Sparling (1992) [5:03]
Four Miniatures (2003) [6:56]
Come back to the old specimen cabinet John Vigani, John Vigani Part 1 (2007) [10:08]
Erki Nool (1999) [3:22]
Trio (1996) [5:27]
Estonia (2001) [11:39]
rec. 19-20 January 2013 and 4-5 January 2014, Henie Onstad Art Centre, Bærum LAWO CLASSICS LWC1083 [46:43]
I first came across Laurence Crane back in 2008 with his piano collection on Metier (review). The piano is still an important element in the music on this Lawo Classics release, but the additional instruments of the Cikada Ensemble from Norway add new and fascinating timbres to Crane’s “large box … of objects.” Crane uses this analogy to describe his compositional process: “The objects are familiar and ordinary: common chords, scales, drones, cadential figures … fragments of music that I have already written … I keep opening this box, maybe taking out something that I have used previously and wondering how it might behave in a different context. The object from another perspective, or magnified in some way, perhaps distorted.”
I wouldn’t add an extended quote about Crane’s view on his creative sources where it not relevant to music that is both spare and, in its own way, magnificently rich. Each piece is a kind of ‘object’ that develops a single idea, creating its own atmosphere and speaking to us in ways both easily assimilated and deeply elusive. In the ‘if you like this, then you might like to try …’ list of names you would probably consider Arvo Pärt a relevant voice, though where Pärt’s spirituality has religious overtones, Crane’s has no such connections. Not even the titles of each piece have a necessarily strong relevance to the music. Crane’s booklet notes are informative on most of the works, but for review purposes here are some personal responses.
Simon 10 Holt 50 has a major/minor yearning quality to its chords, set out in a gentle piano part with a halo of sustained string tones expanding the colours of the notes. This beautiful miniature is followed by the earliest piece in the collection, Sparling, written for clarinetist Andrew Sparling. Long notes and few notes, magical moments in which the clarinet passes its voice to the piano together form a kind of lyrical infinity, the slow tread of the piano acting as a chorale fragment over which the clarinet spreads its extended tones like the cloths of heaven.
Riis uses a sensitively selected sound from an electric organ for its carpet of slow harmonies, with a clarinet and cello take notes from this basis in a kind of canonic delay. Words don’t convey this effect, but you can soon expect to hear this as a soundtrack to some deep-space cinematic epic. Four Miniatures is a quartet of remarkable sonic portraits, each one a distillation of a single effect – breath sounds that actually come from a violin, drones with just a pair of melodic notes recurring above, the starlight ring of a triangle, and nuances including an e-bow on a piano string. Come back to the old specimen cabinet John Vigani, John Vigani part 1 has the longest title and at around ten minutes the longest single-movement structure in this programme. This is a ‘box of objects’ in its own right, the clarinet line “made up of a number of self-contained objects that are placed alongside each other without interaction.” These musical objects are interrupted by proportionate but equally disparate percussion effects, the whole thing ‘glued’ in some way by a pre-recorded drone. This is one of the more abstract musical experiences on this CD – certainly not without its own silently dramatic atmosphere, but perhaps a little too chancy to be entirely compelling.
Erki Nool for flute and piano is another piece that demands supreme control, with a cell of three rising notes in the flute emerging over the most sparing of piano accompaniments. This soft gem is followed by a Trio which also explores three and two-note cells, flute and clarinet playing in their lower registers, the piano commenting with lonely chords from above. Estonia is three movements for a mixed quartet of winds and strings. Each movement names three famous Estonians, with Arvo Pärt as the last – the reason for this given being that “a lot of Estonians seem to have a family name and a given name both consisting of 4 characters.” Crane distanced himself from the idea that this relates to a tendency towards 4-part harmony in the piece as a whole, but such serendipity usually connects to ‘something in the air’ with this kind of creativity. Estonia brings the programme to a close with a similar ‘silence shaped by sound’ feel that resonates retrospectively over the entire recording.
Beautifully produced and performed, this is a ‘minimal’ sound which will stay with you for a long time. These pieces work a kind of meditative spell, but few are long enough to put you into a trance and none outstays its welcome. With tonal melodic and harmonic features there are perhaps occasional hints of Erik Satie, perhaps someone like Gavin Bryars at his most introspective, or perhaps even some little whiffs of Morton Feldman or Brian Eno. These are reference points whose Venn-diagram lines cross only incidentally, but in hunting for pointers there are usually a few such names to be thrown in. Laurence Crane’s is however a unique and uniquely special voice, and one that provides ample evidence that quiet, transparent simplicity is a force to be reckoned with.