REVIEWS: metier msv 28546  New Sounds from Manchester

In 2005, the Quatuor Danel succeeded the Lindsay Quartet as Quartet-in-Residence at the University of Manchester. The new quartet's predilection for progressive programming of works by composers such as Ligeti, Xenakis, Rihm, and Lachenmann met with a warm reception from the Manchester audiences, which encouraged the Quatuor Danel in the direction of focusing on newer works (although they continue to play the old masterworks as well). Quite unsurprisingly, local composers began writing music for the group, and some of the results of this flurry of compositional activity are heard on the present CD. Of the four composers presented here, I can recall having previously heard music only by John Casken, but each of them has a distinctive and attractive musical personality.

The 1974-born Camden Reeves is head of music and senior lecturer in composition at the University of Manchester, and his music, especially that for piano, has been widely performed. His first quartet, entitled Fireworks Physonect Siphonophore, begins the disc, its title drawn from a particular species of jellyfish-like aquatic organisms, famous (among biologists, at least) for their capa bility of exchanging groups of cells between colonies. No, I can't explain how such a thing can hap­ pen, but the composer indicates that something analogous to that occurs in the music. The work opens with a series of notes in the violin that crescendo into pressure scratches (executed through great downward pressure on the bow and a lessening of bow speed). From that point, the music only increases into Xenakis-like complexity, but what might sound like chaos to some listeners may actually be very highly structured. There are a lot of notes in this brief (five-minute) work, and through them the composer apparently said everything he needed to.

The three-movement String Quartet No. 2 by Reeves is only about double the length of his first quartet, so these movements also pack a lot of activity into their brief duration, at least in the first half of each movement. The title, Dactylozooid Complex, undoubtedly suggests some sort of sequel to the first quartet, and sure enough, Dactylozooids turn out to be the tentacles armed with deadly stinging cells that hang down from various invertebrate denizens of the deep. This reminds me of the Portuguese-Man-of-War jellyfish that used to occasionally wash up into the shallow waters on the Ft. Lauderdale beach, where my childhood visits sometimes would be attended by painful stings. I know one Fanfare reviewer who would find this music as painful as stings from these sorts of tentacles, but I found it quite engaging. The first minute-long movement constitutes essentially one long upward cascade of notes in all four instruments followed by a section of punctuated silence, while the second picks up where the first left off, but adds a plethora of pressure scratches and pointillistic pizzicato before the silence concludes the movement. The third movement is a longer synthesis of the above —in fact, each movement is double the length of the preceding one, making the piece effectively cast in the form of A-B-AA-BB-AAAA-BBBB, where "A" is the busy activity, and "B" is the near silence. This structure is itself innovative, and quite effective.

Nestled in between the two quartets of Reeves is the Interlocking Melodies of Richard Whalley. Written in 2007 for the quartet that performs it here, the work is intended as a tribute to Gyorgy Ligeti (incidentally, for you non-Hungarian speakers, Ligeti's given name is almost universally mis­ pronounced: It's the Hungarian equivalent of George, and should be pronounced close to that sound, but with the substitution of the vowel sound in the word, "urge." "Gy" is considered a single letter in Hungarian, and so the name is one syllable, not two). The quartet is constructed from interlocking melodies, all of which are based on the whole-tone scale. The composer states that he chose that scale since "it seems to defy gravity, as a result of its intervals being equal, thus its pitches being of equal weight." Lest you think that you will be hearing a work in the style of, say Debussy, I hasten to say that the whole-tone scales used by the four instruments are all tuned a quarter-tone apart, making this a microtonal work —but one that is easier to listen to than you might think prima facie. Whalley is also a lecturer in composition at the University of Manchester.

John Casken (b. 1949) is the oldest composer represented on this disc, and likely the best known: I've seen recordings of his music even back in the LP era. His Choses en moi (Things in Me) was inspired, at least in its title, by Prokofiev's 1928 piano cycle. Choses en soi (Things in Themselves). The title here refers to the fact that the composer quotes or alludes to phrases or things from his earlier works. The piece is quite motoristic throughout with the exception of a quiet middle section. Driving sequences of repeated notes propel the piece forward to the non-motoristic sections that utilize impassioned and quite dissonant counterpoint in the four instruments, playing largely in their upper registers. It is a very effective work, and has a particularly distinctive sound.

The half-hour, four-movement Ghosts of Great Violence by Philip Grange occupies 50 percent of the playing time of the CD. Grange, who currently serves as professor of composition at Manchester University, states that the work was inspired by visits to World War I Somme battlefield sites. The first movement draws its inspiration specifically from English novelist and poet Ford Madox Ford's World War I tetralogy. Parade's End, and the movement is characterized by an elegiac atmosphere and reflective solos in the cello, and gestures in close, dissonant parallel motion in all four instruments. In the second movement, violin I and viola engage in a kind of dialogue against an erratic pizzicato in the other instruments (meant to suggest the effects of the chlorine gas upon the unfortunately combatants who encountered it). Movement three follows without break, this movement being fast and driving. This time, violin II gets the primary solo, while the other players remain in the background. (As a long-time second violinist, this idea naturally appeals to me!) The closing movement, opening with a series of whispers in all four instruments, brings back elements from previous movements in spectral fashion (the movement is, in fact, entitled "Spectral Colloquies") with timbral considerations moved to the foreground.

In this CD, one hears string-quartet playing of the first order. These are all difficult works to pull off, and Quatuor Danel does so superbly, with impeccable precision and conviction. For those whose musical tastes run to the quartets of, say, Lutoslawski or Penderecki, there will be ample rewards herein, and the disc receives a high recommendation accordingly.
David DeBoor Canfield

Quatuor Danel lives up to its reputation of being excellent advocates for the heavier fare as they perform string quartet contributions from contemporary British composers with vibrating intensity.

In the 50's, Professor Richard Hall was the center of a downright avantgardistic group of musicians at Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, predominantly composers, who had a lasting influence on British music history of the second half in the 20 th century – like Harrison Birtwistle, Peter Maxwell Davies, Alexander Goehr or John Ogdon. Today one could possibly talk about a rebirth of the Manchester-school around John Casken and Philip Grange, Professors of composition at the university. This CD complements string quartets by these two composers with compositions by Richard Whalley and Camden Reeves, both teach composition at the university.

The Quatuor Danel is not really known for academic music making, and the four composers mentioned are far from such. The quartet presents Camden Reeves' (b.1974) first two string quartets, the single movement of 'Fireworks Physonect Siphonophore' (2009) and the three movements of 'Dactylozooid Complex' (2011). Both pieces refer to Jellyfish or dactylozooids, fascinating and evasive creatures. Their multiple forms are being explored in both compositions in quite similar fashion; the second quartet exceeds the first one significantly in respect to depth and technical diversity. The first piece was written for Quatuor Danel, as was Richard Whalley's (b.1974) 'Interlocking Melodies' (2007), an Homage to Witold Lutoslawski. Here the compositional account is more linear compared to Reeves' two quartets and provides an interesting contrast as such.

John Casken's (b.1949) 'Choses en moi' was written in 2003 for the Lindsay String Quartet. The piece is named after a piano cycle by Serge Prokofiev. The intensity of this composition, its energy as well as melodic aspects turns it into a special treasure on this CD. The most extensive piece on the CD is Philip Grange's (b.1956) 'Ghosts of Great Violence' (2012) in four movements, which is inspired by visits to the battle fields of world war one along the Somme. Once again Quatuor Danel performs the world premiere of this complex piece, which far exceeds describing the ghosts of the dead from world war one, rather it includes rich musical variations and among others also includes the BACH-motive. Those references are more subtle as compared to some more famous British contemporaries and thus more convincing. Of course the music is very demanding (for audience and performers alike), but this is an important enrichment of repertoire, which should break the all-so narrow canon of listened to or played pieces.

An Ensemble like Quatuor Danel (Marc Danel, Gilles Millet, Vlad Bogdanas und Guy Danel), which is subscribed to ‘heavy fare' does of course not have difficulties with this challenging music, listening to it repeatedly is a very worthwhile exercise. We have to thank the label Metier for publishing a CD of works which may not be attractive to a wide audience. The recording is immaculate, the booklet texts are authoritative, contributed by the composers themselves (unfortunately only in English) – only the year of Grange's composition is not stated. All in all, highly recommended.
Jürgen Schaarwächter, translated by Wolfgang Ziegler

From Manchester, England we have the Quatuor Danel playing five very modernist string quartets on New Sounds from Manchester (Metier 28546). The composers are all living exponents of uncompromising new music, musical personages rather unknown, at least to me, but all showing a fine sense of craftsmanship and dramatic flair.

The program consists of Camden Reeves (b. 1974) with "Fireworks Physonect Siphonophore (String Quartet No. 1)" and "Dactylozooid Complex (String Quartet No. 2)," Richard Whalley (b. 1974) with his "Interlocking Melodies," John Casken (b. 1949) and his "Choses en moi," and finally Philip Grange (b. 1956) and "Ghosts of Great Violence." Quatour Danel handles it all with an excellent feel for contemporary modernism and fine musicianship.

None of the works are mundane or routine. They all are of a uniformly advanced nature and mesh together for a consistently rewarding listen.

Quatuor Danel have been together since 1991; in 2005 they became the quartet-in-residency at the University of Manchester, where they remain. Their playing is exemplary on this disk and the Manchester composers represented are in every way worthy of the quartet's talented way.

Grego Edwards

We've been enjoying this new CD from Quatuor Danel, the quartet in residence at the University of Manchester.

On this CD they present new compositions by four English composers associated with the university, two (John Casken and Philip Grange) already quite well known (so the Press notes say) and two younger ones, Camden Reeves and Richard Whalley.

The CD opens with Reeves's Fireworks Physonect Siphonophore, written about a jellyfish-type creature than exists as a colony but behaves a single creature. The music conveys a pulsing creature moving through the sea, both as a solid mass and composed of small, darting components. The strings are played in a jerky, almost organic way, the instruments sometimes together and at other times drifting apart. Reeves also contributes Dactylozooid Complex, three pieces written about sea creatures armed with poisonous tentacles. It's similar to Fireworks Physonect Siphonophore. Both pieces could be discordant but are sharply interesting rather than edgy.

Whalley's work is Interlocking Melodies, a more conventional quartet piece inspired by a work by artist Willem do Koonig, of shapes floating in balance. Four whole tone scales are used, a quarter tone apart, say the sleeve notes, for those of you who understand.

Grange contributes Ghosts of Great Violence, inspired by WWI, while Casken's piece is Choses En Moi , but we feel it's Reeves who (to coin a dreadful phrase we will never use again) owns the CD.
Jeremy Condliffe

The University of Manchester's music department has become a fertile composing ground, its admirable quartet in residence clearly an inspiration. Reeves's brief, compellingly intricate Quartets Nos 1 and 2 both (astonishingly) explore links between aquatic organisms and ensembles such as this. Richard Whalley's Interlocking Melodies is a stylish, Ligeti-inspired study in whole-tone figuration. John Casken's self-reflective, eight-minute Choses en Moi has a vigour vaguely Viennese, while Philip Grange's Ghosts of Great Violence, evoking the Somme battlefields, is a full-scale essay in part inspired, he says, by John Singer Sargent's painting Gassed.
Paul Driver