Michael Finnissy’s Mississippi Hornpipes has remarkable variety for a record that advertises itself as “music for violin and piano”. Mississippi Hornpipes, ‘Jive’, and the Violin Sonata are all for this standard instrumentation; but Seterjentens Fridag has a second keyboard, Amphitheatre des Sciences Mortes has prepared piano, and Molly House includes a detuned harpsichord as well as a vacuum cleaner, hair dryer, and an electric shaver.
Finnissy’s style is typified by a slipperiness of phrase, melody, and shape, that makes one listen closely. His play with timbres is also very effective, whether it’s subtle in his pieces for violin and piano, or obvious in his use of household appliances. Mississippi Hornpipes has lots of close, double-stopped dissonances in the violin that accompany the tumbling piano. The emphasis here is on melody and harmony, a more traditional balance of the two classical instruments. In a work like Molly House, though, the whole point is a thoughtful exploration of timbre. The detuned harpsichord contributes little chirps and barks, and the vacuum cleaner sounds about as tasteful as a vacuum cleaner can. I’m glad to add this Finnissy record to my collection.