Sadie Harrison’s No Title Required is the showstopper here. It uses the same instrumental combination as Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire (flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano) but bears no resemblance to that groundbreaking work. Harrison’s quintet is in two movements, a form that invites contrasts and surprises. The musical content unfolds as a set of variations. Harrison writes detailed passages where two instruments play as one, particularly in the first movement where the winds and strings pair off momentarily to form a double duo, and in other places the high instruments play in unison against a paired cello and left-hand piano. In the second movement, we get some atmospheric sliding clarinet and flute sounds over a steady piano. Three Expositions are three well-crafted works for solo flute. Alternately dreamy and vigorous, After Colonna is a substantive single movement for cello and piano, based on an esoteric 15th-century mythological romance.
Born in South Africa, Priaulx Rainier spent her student and professional life in London except for a brief period of study with Nadia Boulanger in Paris. Rainier’s work is engaging and uncomplicated. These three works show a composer who may have been influenced by neo-Classicism, but moved on to an original, more modernist language. The 1943 Suite for Clarinet and Piano, in five short movements, suggests Bartók’s Contrasts, especially in its slowest movement. The clarinet part has a harlequin-like liveliness and is rarely lyrical. Rainier has a penchant for repeating small patterns or a handful of notes just once or twice, which is very evident in the Five Pieces for Keyboard. The last of the Five Pieces is from 1951 and is the most curious: Short and aggressive with repeated chords, jagged lines and a starkly repeating note pattern, it could be a discarded Stockhausen Klavierstück. The Viola Sonata is my favorite Rainier work here. Viola and piano play as equals with little concertizing bravado, and the viola has much to do in its lower range, a tessitura that seems to scare many composers.
Rainier died in 1986 (aged 83), but Harrison, born in Australia in 1965,is alive and active. Metier has released other first performances of Harrison’s chamber music, and works for larger forces are to be premiered in 2002. The ensemble Double Image has forged a rewarding partnership with Harrison, and their hard work has paid off with exemplary performances of interesting music. I’m looking forward to hearing more.