Out with the old, in love with the new
JOE CUTLER: ELSEWHERENESS
Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Symphony Orchestra NMC Apartment House
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.