Planet Hugill

This new disc of music by David Braid from metier features a selection of the composer’s chamber music and songs featuring Emily Gray (mezzo-soprano), Claire Overbury (flute), Peter Cigleris (clarinet), Elena Zucchini (guitar), Sergei Podobedov (piano), Rossitza Stoycheva (piano) and David Braid (archtop guitar). A big feature of much of the music on the disc is Braid’s use of the archtop guitar, an electric guitar more usually found in jazz but which Braid uses to surprisingly subtle effect.

The centrepiece of the disc is Songs of contrasting subjects for mezzo-soprano and archtop guitar, in which Emily Gray and David Braid perform Braids five songs setting texts by Shakespeare and Bunyan. Whilst the song texts all include an element of contrast, Braid’s settings are quietly intense and frequently spare. The opening song ‘She goes but softly’ sets the mood with its invocation for voice almost alone. The songs are gently lyrical, and often rather haunting, ‘Music to hear’ makes very effective use of Gray’s lovely lower register, with the final song ‘Is it thy will’ being bleak and poignant. Braid frequently writes highly effective single lines for the guitar, with just a little harmony shaded in to great effect, so much so that when he resorts to more standard techniques like strumming it sounds like padding.

Gray also features on the disc’s opening number, the song Upon silver trees, in which Gray is accompanied by Braid on archtop guitar and Sergei Podobedov on piano. The resulting fascinating combination of timbres complements the lyrically evocative vocal line beautifully.
This combination of piano and archtop guitar crops up also in the Sonata for archtop guitar and piano, also played by Braid and Podobedov. Here the fascinating mix of sounds gives gentle hints of jazz in the canonic ‘Invocation’, lovely slow ‘Waltz’, and a final ‘Fugue’ where jazz and Bach seem to meet.

The Four Intimate Pieces feature Braid playing the archtop guitar solo. Again, it is the spare single line which appeals the most, and the opening ‘Lirico’ achieves a lyrical melancholy, which continues in the evocative ‘February lament’. ‘Valse triste’ features an elegantly decorated line from the guitar, though I fear this rather turns to noodling in the melancholy ‘Tomorrow’s Daydream’. The final work on the disc also features the instrument, Two solos for Archtop Guitar.

The music on the disc dates from the period 2012-2015 and is preponderantly in a gently modal, tonal style. Only in the earliest piece on the disc, the First Piano Sonata of 2012 (here played by Rossitza Soyacheva) does the style turn a little more edgy, bringing a welcome hint of atonality to the mix. Perhaps this is partly because Braid restricts each hand to either just black or just white notes. This limitation hardly impinges on the resulting music, and it is all full of elegantly refined textures. The opening ‘Stabile con calma’ has flashes of wit within the calm, whilst ‘Poco melancholia e tranquillo’ is quietly lyrical with hints of rhythm underneath and occasional more disruptive influences, and the final ‘Ossessivo’ has a fast yet delicate moto perpetuo texture.

Invocation and Continuum features the duo of Claire Overbury, flute, and Elena Zucchini, classical guitar, in a quietly lyrical pair of pieces. And another duo, this time Peter Cigleris, clarinet, and Rossitza Stoycheva, piano, perform the Invention and Fugue, the first movement gently rhapsodic and the second lively and engaging.

This is an attractive introduction to the more intimate music of composer whose work I knew principally for his sacred music. Here we have an array of fine performances and a selection of fascinating timbres.

—Robert Hugill