Musical Pointers

This is an arresting CD which compels listening. Gordon McPherson (b.1965) teaches composition in Scotland and judging from his notes for this CD his students must have lively intellectual stimulation along varied and unpredictable paths. He takes cues for composing from ordinary life; Detours is about memories and reflections about cars; he seems to have rather a lot of broken relationships which find their way into his music; he explored obsessive-compulsion disorder in a long and dense duo for piano and violin of 1990. The CD ends with Born of Funk and The Fear of Failing, a thoroughly engrossing guitar concerto which, he avers, is not a guitar concerto because it is impossible to write one!

I don’t think the notes will greatly help you follow the music, but don’t worry, it is mostly direct and accessible. Detours begins disconcertingly (to me) blandly, but this is deceptive and we soon enter complexities which bring to mind Ives, whom I guess is to McPherson’s taste. He draws on genres outside the classical canon, and some of the references no doubt pass me by.

Psappha is an ensemble as innovative as is McPherson a composer. In their early days I greatly enjoyed a season of concerts about the Sea which they gave in Greenwich on the Cutty Sark – hawling a grand piano down into the ship for the purpose. The earliest work is the 25 mins duo Maps and Diagrams of our Pain inspired by fascination with psychiatry, commandingly interpreted by Richard Casey and David Routledge. Allan Neave is the soloist in what I found one of the most successful of guitar concertos (whatever the composer says about it) and the whole thing was recorded – quite astonishingly – in one day in April 2001 in the acoustically excellent hall of the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester.

Excellent production, as is Metier’s way, and the cast list helpfully identifies who plays in what pieces. Strongly recommended for its originality and vitality.

—Peter Grahame Woolf