Thursday, 23 November 2017

David Braid: Songs, Solos and Duos on Metier

I have not (consciously) heard any music by David Braid, before reviewing this present CD. It is an omission that I have been delighted to correct. For detailed information about the composer, I suggest a perusal of his excellent webpage.  Four points may be of interest to the listener. Firstly, David Braid is a Welsh composer, born in Wrexham and growing up in the seaside resort of Colwyn Bay. He studied at the Royal College of Music and at the Cracow Academy of Music in Poland. Secondly, he is a hugely accomplished guitar player, as will be heard in this CD. Thirdly, Braid is an eclectic musician. He has written a Violin Concerto, played in rock bands and composed film music. It is not surprising that he has called for the guitar (electric or acoustic) in several of his compositions. Finally, Braid does have his own musical voice, however influences include Lutoslawski, Sibelius, Per Nørgård and a hint of minimalism.

A definition. Everyone knows what an electric guitar is. The same applies to the classical Spanish guitar. I had to look up what a ‘archtop guitar’ was. The Wikipedia definition is a good as any: ‘An archtop guitar is a hollow steel-stringed acoustic or semi-acoustic guitar with a full body and a distinctive arched top, whose sound is particularly popular with jazz, blues, rockabilly and psychobilly guitarists.’ It certainly has a distinctive sound that is brilliantly exploited by David Braid.

Begin exploring this CD with the Four Intimate Pieces for electric archtop guitar, op.21. This collection was composed during 2013-14. It is a great way to introduce oneself to the sound of this beautiful instrument. The first movement ‘Lirico’ was based on an improvisation that Braid did on the first seven notes of J.S. Bach’s first lute suite.  This is followed by a bleak ‘February’s Lament’, which the composer suggests may refer to the ‘seemingly endless winter’ nights. Braid uses the title of one of Sibelius’ most popular pieces, ‘Valse Triste’ for his third number. This is a thoughtful melody, that has little of the ‘valse’ and much of the ‘triste.’ It is quite lovely. The final piece is ‘Tomorrow’s Daydream’, which has an impressionistic feel, no doubt generated by the whole-tone scale. It is magic and evocative.

I stayed with this instrument for the Two Solos for archtop guitar, op.45 & op.43 completed in 2015. The first, ‘Wordless Song’ is a swift ‘rhapsodic’ piece using a wide variety of instrumental effects. The second, ‘For Alex’ is more ‘classical’ in its bearing and is written in two ‘contrapuntal’ parts. It is dedicated to Alex Anderson, the son of Martin, owner of the Toccata Classics record label.

For a different mood, I turned to the Invention and Fugue, op.36, duo for clarinet and piano. The Invention is lyrical, slow paced and lugubrious. On the other hand, the Fugue trips along with rhythmic drive, constantly shifting accents and having considerable melodic interest.  This was composed in 2014.

The first vocal work, ‘On Silver Trees’, op.34 is a gorgeous setting of Walter de la Mare’s delightfully descriptive poem, ‘Silver’. The soprano is well-accompanied by the archtop guitar and piano, enhancing the effect of the moon’s colouring of the landscape and trees. The vocal setting of the line ‘A harvest mouse goes scampering by…’ is most felicitous.

Reflection is the keynote of the attractive Invocation and Continuum, op.38, duo for flute and classical guitar.  The ‘Invocation’ is quiet and is characterised by a nocturnal mood. Whereas the ‘Continuum’ has much melodic and rhythmic diversity. Despite the vivacious Iberian mood of some of this movement, it is still retrospective, with a musical quotation from the ‘Invocation’ providing an effective sense of closure. The work was written in 2014.

The first of the major works in this CD is the Sonata for archtop guitar and piano, op.19. This splendid duo, for a combination that may be unique, was written in 2013 for Braid to perform with the present pianist, Sergei Podobedov. The work in in three movements: ‘Invocation’, ‘Waltz’ and ‘Fugue’. I agree with the liner notes’ contention that the two instruments make an ideal contrapuntal team. The timbres of each instrument never intrude upon each other, but allow for the listener to hear the musical development of each partner.  After a quiet ‘Invocation’, the Waltz is gentle and occasionally a little wayward, whilst the fugal finale nods to Eastern European folk dances. It is a most satisfying Sonata, and one can only hope that David Braid will write another example soon.

The Songs of Contrasting Subjects, mezzo soprano and archtop guitar, op.47 (2015) are quite stunning. They set four poems by William Shakespeare and one by John Bunyan. The poems are ‘She goes but softly’ (Bunyan), ‘Fear no more’ (Cymbeline), ‘Music to hear’ (Sonnet 8), ‘How can I then return’ (Sonnet 28) and ‘Is it thy will’ (Sonnet 61) (Shakespeare). The use of the archtop guitar as opposed to the more obvious resource of the piano is well-chosen. Braid points out that the ‘warm, mellow sound suits the mezzo voice perfectly…’

The final work I listened to was the First Piano Sonata, op.14 (2012). The title correctly implies that there may be a Second: and there is. The present Sonata is conceived in three movements: ‘Stabile con calma’, ‘Poco melancholia e tranquillo’ and Ossessivo. The composer explains that the constructive principal behind this work is that the musical material (harmony, themes, motif’s etc) is limited to each hand/part playing on only white or black notes. They can swap around. He cites Chopin’s black note study (op.10 no.5) and Ligeti’s ‘White on White’ as possible exemplars. Whatever the technical devices used, the work is effective and satisfying. Naturally, there is significant dissonance in the development of each movement, but this is not problematic. The linear progression of each hand/part is quite conventional. The middle movement is in waltz time: I am not sure about the liner notes reference to ‘a slender android trying to dance’ but the result is quite moving. Beaming back down to earth from Star Trek’s USS Enterprise, the concluding ‘Ossessivo’ is really an exciting toccata or perpetuum mobile. An impressive conclusion to a fascinating work.  

The music is brilliantly played by all the performers. The sound quality is superb. The CD insert includes programme notes for all the works, a 2-page essay on the composer, biographical details of the performers and the song texts.   

I enjoyed this CD. The music is interesting, often captivating, never too challenging, and always enjoyable. It has been a privilege to explore these eight works.

Track Listing:
David BRAID (b.1970)
‘On Silver Trees’, op.34 for mezzo-soprano, archtop guitar and piano (2014)
Invocation and Continuum, op.38, duo for flute and classical guitar (2014)
Sonata for archtop guitar and piano, op.19 (2013)
Invention and Fugue, op.36, duo for clarinet and piano (2014)
Songs of contrasting subjects, mezzo soprano and archtop guitar, op.47 (2015)
Four intimate pieces for electric archtop guitar, op.21 (2013-14)
First Piano Sonata, op.14 (2012)
Two Solos for electric archtop guitar, op.45 & op.43 (2015)
Emily Gray (mezzo-soprano), Claire Overbury (flute), Elena Zucchini (guitar), Peter Cigleris (clarinet), Sergei Podobedov (piano), Rossitza Stoycheva (piano), David Braid (archtop guitar) 
MÉTIER msv 28575

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