Saturday, 3 June 2017

Kevin Raftery: Chamber Music on Metier

A great place to begin exploration of this impressive CD is Pleasantries for oboe/English horn, clarinet, bass clarinet and bassoon. This nine-movement ‘serenade’ or ‘divertimento’ was composed following a series of personal losses, including the death of both of Kevin Raftery’s parents. The present work was a successful attempt at looking forward rather than dwelling on the sadness of the past. Inspired by Calefax, a reed quintet from Amsterdam, the ‘suite’ soon took shape. Despite the ‘whimsical’ title of this piece, there is much music here that is thoughtful, although I think that musical ‘wit’ is the predominant note. The concept of the work revolves round small-talk and half-heard conversations between folk. Movement titles include ‘A bit windy[!]’, ‘I was gob-smacked’ ‘Reading between the lines’ and ‘Go on, then’. These ‘movements’ can be played in any order and the ensemble can select as many or as few as they wish. Many of these sections are dedicated to American composers: George Perle, Elliot Carter, Conlon Nancarrow, Frank Zappa (a great favourite of mine) and Morton Feldman. It is a delightful work that should appeal to all top-rate wind ensembles.

Kevin Raftery was born in St Louis, Missouri in 1951. He studied with Peter Racine Fricker (one of my ‘essential’ 20th century composers) at the University of Santa Barbara. In 1989, Raftery relocated to London. After study with Justin Connolly, he worked simultaneously as a musician and a project manager. As well as composing, Raftery sings with the New London Chamber Choir, is the Music Director of the Richmond Concert Society and an accomplished bassoonist (hence his proficiency in writing for woodwind).
His musical compositions include a Trumpet Concerto, a Brass Quintet, two String Quartets and a Concerto for 2 violins and small orchestra.
His musical style is ‘modern’. I am not sure if he invariably uses tone-rows: he is certainly not minimalist, or post-modern, but develops a sound world that is expressionistic, thoughtful and often dramatic, without being histrionic.
I am beholden to him for the excellent liner notes, from which I have garnered virtually all the information needed to review this CD.

I moved on to listen to First Companion. This was written as a possible concert companion piece suitable to be played at a recital of Beethoven’s Septet, Stravinsky’s Septet or Schubert’s Octet. It utilises four (clarinet, bassoon, violin and cello) of the seven or eight soloists in those masterpieces. There is an underlying programme to this work: this is highlighted by the title of the first movement – ‘To Canterbury and back’. This alludes to the gathering of the pilgrims in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and their subsequent journey and story-telling.  The second movement, ‘Melodies’ is entertaining. The cello typically plays ‘mundane’ music whilst occasionally trying to ‘muscle in’ on the other instruments’ more glamorous adventures. The final movement, ‘vivace’ is ‘high-jinx’ – lots of fun and nodding towards the above-mentioned masterpieces. I enjoyed this work from first note to the last.

The String Quartet No.1 was written in 2012 and was ‘In memory of Richard Oake, who loved string quartets.’  The composer relates how he had resisted/refrained from writing a string quartet for over 35 years, due to consciousness of the ‘medium’s history of sublime works by great composers’. When his friend died, he decided to write a quartet in his memory. The work is in a single movement, although the listener will be aware of subdivisions. There is an opening section using a ‘classical’ first and second subject. After the development, which is curtailed without a recapitulation, the ‘slow movement’ moves away from drama and violence to explore ‘divine unconcern.’ It is a true elegy for Raftery’s dead friend. After this, the recapitulation does indeed happen, but not classically: finally, the ‘first subject’ is merged with music from the ‘slow movement.’
It is a fine addition to the repertoire, that is moving, interesting and sometimes disturbing. I am sure that his friend Richard would have been mightily impressed with ‘his’ Quartet.

The final work on this CD is the ‘Friedhof’ Quintet for flute, harp, violin, viola and cello. The inspiration for this work was a German cemetery! The German word ‘Fried[e]’ means peace. Raftery explains that he ‘heard a robin singing in a cemetery in December 2009. Somehow the beauty of its song, in that cold but tranquil place’ gave the composer what he needed to begin work. The Quintet was finished sometime after his mother had died.  This lady is recalled in the third movement, which is vibrant, ‘puckish’ and thoroughly confident. The slow movement is expressive of grief, preceded by the opening ‘Andante con tranquillo’ which sets the scene in the peacefulness of the graveyard.  Despite its ‘Gothic’ stimulus, this is the most beautiful and substantial work on this CD. The entire Quintet is positive in the working out of its musical material. 

I cannot fault this CD. The playing is excellent in every detail: the sound quality is ideal. It is so refreshing to hear ‘modern’ music that is not in hock to Einaudi or one of the other purveyors of post- modern, simplistic, tuneless, neo-pop...  Kevin Raftery may be a serialist: he might use expanded tonality or atonal theories; his music is always interesting, complex, touching, thought-provoking and ultimately satisfying. 

Track Listing:
Kevin RAFTERY (b.1951)
String Quartet No.1 (2012)
First Companion, for clarinet, bassoon, violin and cello (2012)
Pleasantries for oboe/English horn, clarinet, bass clarinet and bassoon (2011)
‘Friedhof’ Quintet for flute, harp, violin, viola and cello (2011)
Heath Quartet: Oliver Heath (violin), Cerys Jones (violin), Gary Pomeroy (viola), Christopher Murray (cello).  [Quartet]
Berkeley Ensemble: Katie Bennington (oboe/English horn), John Slack (clarinet), Jonathan Parkin (bass clarinet/clarinet), Andrew Watson (bassoon), Sophie Mather (violin), Gemma Wareham (cello). [First Companion, Pleasantries]
Animare Ensemble: Matthew Featherstone (flute), Anneke Hodnett (harp), Florence Cooke (violin), Drew Balch (viola), Karen French (cello). [Quintet]
MÉTIER msv 28569 

No comments: