Psappha is Manchester based and goes in for carefully constructed programmes. Only six members of their flexible line-up are involved here at most, and often you would not guess it. In their early days I relished covering an adventurous thematic series of concerts based upon the sea, and given in the hold of the Cutty Sark clipper, docked in Greenwich, requiring a crane to deposit the Steinway in the proper place!
I became seriously aware of Anthony Powers (b.1953) in April 2000 – the CD is coy about his age (neither ‘youf’ nor yet venerable!) – when I was reviewing the London String Quartet Competition. for Seen&Heard, and heard numerous performances of the set piece, his well-crafted Third String Quartet. (That omission was doubtless just an oversight, since Metier also omits the very respectable TT for this excellent CD of chamber music from 1980-1997.)
Powers is a renowned craftsman who operates in ‘enriched tonality’ and is a determined contrapuntist, as befits a Nadia Boulanger pupil.
The music is presented in reverse chronological order. Fast Colours (1997) has a hard-edged texture, very invigorating. The Double Sonata has a complicated structure, with four subjects set in tempi that double, facilitating superimposition. A great variety of textures is conceived for a quartet of cl, pft, vln & vlc. In Sunlight for vln & pft is as bright as its title, double variations which become ever more florid, contrasting with vigorous double-stopping, ending with a tranquil dissolve. The Quintet (1980) uses alto flute and clarinet expressively and embraces a quote from the Walton viola concerto. The finale is a firmly built passacaglia. Earliest is Another part of the Island (1980) scored delicately and consciously evoking The Tempest. There is a storm in the central movement, a return to sleep and dreaming at the end. Although there are only six players, this item (only) is conducted by Nicholas Kok.
Well recorded in Cheshire, this first CD devoted entirely to his music is a release which will give a great deal of pleasure. The cover picture by Howard Hodgkin is particularly winning. (Further information about Anthony Powers from Oxford University Press – he hasn’t made it yet into MusicWeb’s British and Irish Composers and our trial subscription to New Grove on-line has expired, so I can’t check that either!)