Musical Pointers

Before hearing this CD, David Gorton ‘s was a name completely unknown to me. He was a student recipient of the Royal Philharmonic Society Composition Prize in 2001 and he has built on this early success with commissions for the BBC SO ( The Fall of Babel ) and London Sinfonietta ( Oblique Prayers ) as well as a series of solo and chamber works for some of the UK’s very best new music performers.

After hearing this beautiful CD, I am keen to discover much more of Gorton’s music. As represented here, in works written for the Kreutzer Quartet and its members, as well as a piece for piano trio, Melting Forms , it seems to me lyrical without being soft, complex without being threatening, cool without being cold. It is intricately crafted, but it wears its intelligence lightly. The ‘Introduction’ to the cello sonata (here given in both studio and live recordings, with reordered movements according to the work’s mobile form) suggests early Ferneyhough with its jagged opening volley of pizzicati, but quickly a counterpoint of calm, Feldmanian harmonics is introduced, and the outlines of a dialogue soon appear. With similar ease the contrasting sounds of ‘Reflection’, each trying to pull in opposite directions from one another, coalesce at the end of the movement into their own little constellation, slowly rotating in the hold of each other’s gravity. Such casual, confident emergences of form are typical of Gorton’s writing.

Two Caprices for violin are extravagantly virtuosic, but the CD’s real substance is in the chamber pieces, Melting Forms and the string quartet Trajectories . The former takes the mobile approach of the cello sonata further: the players are free to choose their own routes through the piece and in their relationships to one another. In this performance, the music seems like an old book, whose pages are slowly coming free of their binding: on the fragile cusp between alignment and disarray.

Trajectories allows other sorts of unpredictability into the music. It was commissioned by Tate St Ives and written with its large gallery spaces in mind, so that the players may be ‘installed’ at wide distances apart from one another around the performing space. This necessitates a music that is not dependent on strict coordination between the players: Gorton writes in long tones that slowly unfold in counterpoint with one another. But this does not mean that he has abandoned his characteristic interest in intense local detail: microtonal tuning is used throughout and, as they shift and slide over one another, the sustained tones create acoustic ‘beats’, a hidden world of activity behind the surface. As it proceeds, the music almost imperceptibly rises towards this higher, more ethereal realm, moving from a world of sombre consideration to transcendent ecstasy.

—Tim Rutherford-Johnson