Out with the old, in love with the new

JOE CUT­LER: ELSEWHERENESS

The Daily Telegraph - Review - - THE CRITICAL LIST - By Ivan Hewett

Royal Birm­ing­ham Con­ser­va­toire Sym­phony Orches­tra NMC Apart­ment House

An­other Tim­bre

When judg­ing liv­ing com­posers, time al­ways helps to sep­a­rate the wheat from the chaff. Those who get easy plau­dits be­cause they em­brace fash­ion­able is­sues or fancy tech­nolo­gies, or of­fer hand-me-down im­i­ta­tions of Bar­tok or Philip Glass or who­ever, even­tu­ally drop away. And slowly those who work over decades to dis­cover a per­sonal voice win through. It’s their mu­sic one reaches for, as one sifts through the CD pile.

Two such com­posers have CDs out this month. At a glance they could hardly be more dif­fer­ent. Bri­tish 50-year-old Joe Cut­ler writes mu­sic of quirky danc­ing en­ergy and hu­mour min­gled with mys­tery. Cana­dian com­poser Linda Catlin Smith, 61, cre­ates beau­ti­fully med­i­ta­tive pieces made of slowly shift­ing colours, like gauze mov­ing in lay­ers.

Smith moved from fash­ion­able New York to deeply un­fash­ion­able Toronto, pre­cisely so she could work on her art undis­turbed. “There is some­thing so lib­er­at­ing about be­ing un­no­ticed for a while,” she says, a re­mark all those shrewd ca­reer­minded com­posers would find puz­zling.

These new releases of­fer a won­der­ful in­tro­duc­tion to the art of each com­poser. The ti­tle piece on Cut­ler’s CD is de­light­fully un­pre­dictable, while Akhma­tova Frag­ments, a se­quence beau­ti­fully sung by Sarah Leonard, cap­tures the sense of won­der at life’s small mys­ter­ies ex­pressed in Akhma­tova’s poems.

Even more win­ning in their ex­quis­ite gen­tle­ness are the per­for­mances from Apart­ment House on Smith’s CD. They re­veal the in­trigu­ing wo­ven tex­tures of the mu­sic, in which mur­mur­ing tan­gles of melodies drift across beds of softly stroked chords. Smith has an un­canny way of cap­tur­ing the sen­su­ous qual­ity of things, as in Knot­ted Silk, which has an in­trigu­ing jux­ta­po­si­tion of hard abrupt­ness and soft shim­mer.

What both com­posers have in com­mon is a su­per-sharp aware­ness of the im­por­tance of tim­ing. Noth­ing ever lasts too long, and the en­gag­ing shifts of di­rec­tion al­ways ar­rive at ex­actly the mo­ment one needs them. If only all releases of new clas­si­cal mu­sic were as re­ward­ing as these.

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