Magazine article Musical Times

Multivalent Late-Modernist

Magazine article Musical Times

Multivalent Late-Modernist

Article excerpt

Andrew Toovey: Red icon; the silvery yesclowns tumble!are made per!form; Shining forth; The moon falls through the autumn

Zoe Martlew (vlc), Jonathan Powell (pno), Ixion, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra/Martyn Brabbins Largo 5139

Andrew Toovey: The juniper tree; Embrace; Adam; Fallen

Jacqueline Homer, Charles Mutter (vln), Yvar Mikhashoff (pno), James Clapperton (pno), Ixion/Michael Finnissy, Broomhill Opera/Charles Peebles Largo 5141

With his guilt-free diversity of style, Andrew Toovey is the very model of the late-modern composer. Born in 1962, and a pupil of both Jonathan Harvey and Michael Finnissy, he has acknowledged a range of enthusiasms extending from Feldman and Skempton to Birtwistle and, of course, Finnissy, not forgetting a wide variety of artists and writers, Artaud and Rothko among them. It could all add up to a recipe for abject derivativeness, the creator in helpless awe of his mighty models: but it's clear from the cross-section of Toovey's work on these welcome CDs that he has the Schoenbergian knack of building quite personal structures on the most august foundations. Those structures might not always succeed, but they are distinctive and, in most cases, very well worth hearing. Largo Records provide good documentation, although the dating is not always consistent, and the detailed synopsis for The juniper tree is not as helpful as the full text would be: the recordings vary in quality, with the 'live' ones tending to overly close focus and dryness, but all are clear and, as performances, confident and convincing.

Among the earlier works included, the piano trio Shining forth has the kind of refined surface and unstressful cosmopolitanism that is not unlike Harvey, as well as a tendency to intricate expressionistic forays not unlike Finnissy Motion between West and East is explicit, adumbrating the possibility of more direct contrasts, and of a balance between simple-sounding ideas and more violent episodes which break free of modal or tonal gravity, as in - it can only be an e.e. cummings title - The silvery yesclowns tumble!are made per!form (for cello, 1987).

The image of clowning as both innocent and violent has long been important for Toovey not least in leading him - with mixed results - towards his first opera, Ubu (1991). The pre-Ubu piece for two pianos, Embrace (1987-90) attempts to sustain a more uniform reticence, as if in specific homage to Feldman (who died in 1987): but without that master's stark economy the music seems riskily opaque, at least in the early stages, with tendencies to underpowered rambling rather than hypnotic ceremonial.

What for me is the best work on either disc, Adam (for oboe, clarinet, two trombones, cello and double bass, 1989-90) redeems the weaknesses of Embrace with interest. The basic topos is that of violent grief, and the intensity is sustained across clear sectional divisions in which lament can give way to moments of uncertain calm. This particular ensemble is brilliantly devised to project the basic melodic units and elemental harmonies that serve Toovey's expressive purpose, and even if, for some tastes, the composer reveals dangerous propensities for aligning himself with the mannerisms of 'pure' complexity, as in what sound rather like Dillon-ish pitch-bendings, these and other associations (Birtwistle, Xenakis) never seriously obscure the audibility of Toovey's own voice.

For various reasons, neither of the two relatively large-scale works equal the impact of Adam. …

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