LABELS: BMG Catalyst
WORKS: Danceworks; Principia; Patrol
PERFORMER: Smith Quartet; Steve Martland Band/Steve Martland
CATALOGUE NO: 09026 62670 2 DDD
Until recently, Steve Martland has tended to came across as merely the purveyor of a loud-mouthed mix of minimalist, Stravinskian, jazz and rock manners: all owing more than most people realised to his teacher, Louis Andriessen. Prising this disc from its case, that feeling remains, courtesy of the artwork.
The first two pieces here, written for the composer’s own band, still won’t suit those who have no taste for music that gleefully emphasises its vernacular roots. Yet I’d argue that Danceworks (1993) achieves genuine subtleties of rhythm, instrumentation, formal design and even counterpoint; clearly Martland has recently been putting in some real thought and hard work. Even the short Principia (1990) – well known to listeners of Radio 3’s The Music Machine – is cleverly, as well as entertainingly, minimalist.
The three-movement, 32-minute string quartet, Patrol (1992), tries to pack too much in: the beginning and ending owe a good deal to Arvo Pärt, and there are plenty of gestures of a Romantic expansiveness new to Martland’s music, owing almost nothing to his previous models. This work’s ambitiousness, however – formal as well as stylistic – suggests his potential might yet be compellingly fulfilled in more ‘classical’ contexts. Performances, especially those by his band, are an impressive tribute to Martland’s maverick talents. Keith Potter