Barry: Things that Gain; String Quartet No. 1; Piano Quartet No. 2

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LABELS: Black Box
WORKS: Things that Gain; String Quartet No. 1; Piano Quartet No. 2
PERFORMER: Kevin Volans, Gerald Barry, Catherine Edwards (piano); Xenia Ensemble, etc
This 46-year-old Irish former pupil of Kagel and Stockhausen has been applying avant-garde and other techniques to familiar materials, making the mix quirkily his own, for some 20 years now. Gerald Barry has been decently served on disc, and the present collection supplements previous recordings well.


Two pieces – Things that Gain and the one with the typically awkward symbolic title of a diagonal line cutting through a circle – are, respectively, for one piano and two; dating from the late Seventies, both vividly explore their composer’s interest in refracting simple melodic materials into fresh-sounding, unpredictable shapes. Three works – the String Quartet No. 1, Water Parted for countertenor and piano, and Five Chorales for two pianos again – are offshoots of the opera The Intelligence Park, and aptly reflect the exuberant and completely off-the-wall flavour of Barry’s major project of the Eighties.


The final pair – Before the Road for four clarinets and the Piano Quartet No. 2 – are recent examples of this composer’s ability to subvert a wide range of materials to his own ambiguous ends. The ten-minute Piano Quartet, which I particularly admire, supposedly derives from some Chopin waltzes; its fantastical elaborations are framed by piano solos of manically epic import. Seemingly excellent performances. Keith Potter