Neural Circuits

A richly diverse programme with a sharp contemporary edge, taking classical music into the 21st century

 

Schnittke, Arvo Pärt and Nieten Sawhney
Joanna MacGregor’s formidable talents as performer‚ promoter and proselytiser are occasionally pressed into the service of music unworthy of them. No qualms on that score with this latest release on her own label. This would be a highly covetable album if it merely introduced Sawhney’s Neural Circuits‚ but the programming is admirable throughout‚ creating a network of contextualising links: the ‘found sound’ techniques evoke Reich’s City Life and The Cave (and there are also hints of free­jazz pianist Cecil Taylor’s Unit Structures and Stockhausen’s Hymnen); the traditional Ghanaian pieces remind us how Reich’s African studies informed minimalism and‚ consequently‚ much subsequent composition; while Schnittke’s Concerto for Piano and Strings‚ as ever‚ alludes disconcertingly to any period or style of music which takes his fancy – witness the references to Russian Church music‚ which the piano attempts to shout down‚ or the episode of strolling jazz bass.

 

This account of Pärt’s Cantus comprises MacGregor’s recorded début as conductor. Despite the competition (notably Russell Davies on ECM) she manages to throw fresh light on this now­familiar but still strikingly beautiful piece‚ and the merging of the final bell resonances into the opening sounds of the lithe and luminous Ghanaian pieces is magical.

 

Urban Prophecies is another riveting and thought­provoking Sawhney construct; its web of interlocking compound time­ signatures and snatches of news bulletins on apocalyptic events impresses. The CD ends with a ravishing performance of Messiaen’s cooler contemplation of the end of time.

 

Gramophone Magazine

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