In the Gloom of Whiteness
Round The Still Earth
Mathilde Blind Landscapes
Simon Haram (soprano saxophone)
Recorded in September and November 2003 in Temple Church, London
On The Sheltering Bars
Claron McFadden (soprano)
Recorded in Church Studios in 1998 (Science Fictions) and at Temple Music in 2004
A Green And Yellow Melancholy
A Stranger Called This Morning
Airs And Graces
A Green And Yellow Melancholy
Alison Wells (voice)
Recorded in 2004 & 2005 in The Lighthouse, Poole
Reviewed by: Rob Witts
Reviewed: October 2006
CD No: Please see above
Duration: Please see above
Composer Colin Riley has launched a label, Squeaky Kate Music, with three discs that display different aspects of his attractive and versatile musical voice. Operating outside of genre associations, mingling classical music with electronica, jazz and rock, he describes his style as “distilled” rather than “eclectic”, and one of the pleasures of listening to all three discs together is how clearly Riley’s distinctive voice emerges.
The songs are a good place to start such a survey. Riley is adept at assembling song-cycles from various poetic sources, mainly contemporary. “A Stranger Called This Morning” is a meditation on childish innocence, and the direct, immediate honesty that accompanies it. Where “Rising, Falling” finds an arresting musical metaphor for the thrilling experience of being pushed ever higher on the swings, “More Often Than We Tell” surrounds Kit Wright’s comforting poem with luminous woodwinds and piano. There is satisfying symmetry between the opening “Celebration” and the closing “Never Will I Go Home To Be A Child”, both drawn from the same skittish vein.
Contrast this with the pattering electronic beats of “Upon The Sharp Edges Of Night”; in the titular opening song, we move to an explicitly urban soundworld for a nocturnal contemplation of love and loss, with Claron McFadden a bluesy, soulful guide. Yet beyond the superficial differences, the same careful response to the text is audible. The ardent words of “Fire Roses” inspire smouldering melodies, the solo cello like an absent lover; in “At 3 am’, lyricism is deadened by the weight of emotion, but all the more powerful for that. The electronic sounds embellish the small ensemble, providing an impersonal chill of urban anomie.
Of the instrumental pieces that feature alongside these cycles, the best is Taking Leaves, a work of calm contemplation and rich, autumnal textures. Altogether edgier is Close, a velvet-lined box of a piece in which a claustrophobic marimba pattern supports the musings of a late-night soprano saxophone.
The third disc offers a choral suite by Riley alongside others by Fraser Trainer and Keith Roberts. Riley’s choral writing sometimes shows a debt to Britten, but is none the worse for that, and his settings of ancient and modern texts feels fresh. The pointillistic, syllabic setting in “Snow Down”, depicting down fluttering from a bird’s breast, could come from Nono or Berio, and Larkin’s “Into Leaf” bursts into ecstatic harmonies at the conclusion.
I remain unconvinced by “Science Fictions”, the ripe Mary Shelley melodrama which sounds like nothing so much as bad rock-opera. This, however, is the exception in a striking set of discs whose quality promises much for the future, any of which is recommended to connoisseurs of sophisticated new music.Performances and recordings throughout all three discs are excellent, revealing classy and painstaking attention to detail.