The English composer Nigel Clarke is scarcely alone in attempting to find a path away from modernism without entirely avoiding the materials and techniques which modernism brought into being. But if he’s ploughing an already well-tilled furrow, he is doing it with considerable flair.
True, among the seven, mostly unaccompanied, works in this uncompromising survey – all written between 1985 and 1994 – some have little to say. Echo and Narcissus, for instance, does nothing to persuade me that solo flute pieces full of fragmented gestures plus occasional extended techniques aren’t these days just completely played out.
Listen, however, to the cello piece Spectroscope, with its mood swings between urgent lyricism and more aggressive gesturing, or the trumpet piece Premonitions, with its distant evocations of ‘ancestral voices prophesying war’. Or to the violin solo Pernambuco, with its transmutations of folk fiddling and wild footstamping. With all three of these, certainly, you get the firm impression of a composer with an acute sensitivity to intervals and timbres, and the imagination not merely the skills, to transform his materials into compelling musical forms. There’s a strong roster of players here, plus the bonus of an intriguing booklet note by the violinist Peter Sheppard Skaerved. Performance ***** Sound ****