(Critics’ Choice January 2001)
An enterprising introduction to two young composers, each with something to say and the means to say it with interest and imagination. Thank heavens for small independent labels. There is a wealth of worthy composers whose music deserves wider recognition and accessibility and Metier had contributed to the cause immensely with the release of this recording of music by Paul Archbold and Fabrice Fitch. The rhythmic ingenuity, intricate textures and subtle exploration of sonorities in the five Etudes en mouvement epitomise Paul Archbold’s style, where hard edged angularity is often juxtaposed with more hazy, impressionistic textures. These characteristics are subtly blended to great effect in the fascinating harp solo Of Crossed Destinies, which draws inspiration from the novel The Castle of Crossed Destinies by Italo Calvino. Here, Archbold conjures a rich musical narrative that echoes the dark, mystical tone of Calvino’s novel. The six short pieces that make up Pas de Deux for piano and viola confine themselves almost exclusively to the exploration of sonority, and there is a sparseness and simplicity found in these pieces (the two instruments often play in unison) which reminds me of Morton Feldman. Disenchanted Voices for flute, viola and harp on the other hand explores more fully Archbold’s preoccupation with multiphonic timbres. Archbold’s delicate tendrils of sound evoke a haunted, fragile landscape that lingers in the mind long after the piece has finished – one almost feels like an eavesdropper on some strange secret ceremony.

Acting as a demarcation line between Archbold and Fitch’s work comes Fabrice Fitch’s own transcription of Cuvelier’s ballade Se Galaas et le puissant Artus. The transcription is described by Fitch as ‘a kind of musical programme note’ to the Filigranes pour les Frères Limbourg heard later on the disc. The striking Structures en bronze for trombone and percussion immediately reveals Fitch to be a composer whose command of tone colour and texture is considerable indeed. Structures en bronze is primarily a dramatic dialogue between the two performers, and Fitch utilises an impressive array of effects and devices to create an absorbing and atmospheric work. In Filigranes pour les Frères Limbourg, for flute, recorder, oboe, viola and cello, Fitch creates a sinewy, fragile sound world (reminiscent at times of Brian Ferneyhough, with whom Fitch studied in the late ’80s) which reflects musically (and most atmospherically) the ‘dense detail and luminous colours’ of three illuminated manuscript masters at the court of Duke Jehan of Berry in the early 15th century. By way of contrast, the three short piano pieces from the ongoing cycle Wind-Up sound almost minimalist, as each explore various mechanistic or quasi-mechanistic devices, resulting in strikingly spare but highly focused and fascinating miniatures. Good sound and exemplary performances throughout. An excellent disc well worth exploring.

—Michael Stewart