WORKS: String Quartet No. 1; Double Concerto for Horn, Trombone and Ensemble; Self-Referential Songs and Realistic Virelais
PERFORMER: Michael Thompson (horn), David Purser (trombone), Christine Whittlesey (soprano)Arditti Quartet; London Sinfonietta/ Diego Masson; Ensemble Modern/ Ingo Metzmacher
CATALOGUE NO: BCD 9045 DDD (distr. Complete Record Co.)
Here are three contrasting pieces from one of the most skilled and individual of modern British composers. Full of memories of and allusions to other music, Benedict Mason’s 1987 String Quartet is equally rich in its own newly imagined combinations. ‘Conceived as a travelogue in five parts’, it impresses more as a mosaic of tiny and extraordinarily diverse sections. In the wrong hands the approach could lead to dire results, but the delicacy and insubstantiality of Mason’s inventions give them a genuine if intangible beauty; this is playful but never foolish music.
Throughout, as in the sparky 1989 brass concerto, Mason shows a fine sense of instrumental capabilities: everything works well. In spirit, something of Walton’s élan combines with an Ivesian feeling for adventure and a neo-Romantic glamour (though without the clichés). The result has a wonderful sense of the comic.
With their insect noises, onomatopoeia, wordplay and Lewis Carroll references, the songs (to Mason’s own texts) show him indulging his cultural-collector’s instincts to the full. Too many in-jokes, perhaps? Christine Whittlesey is nevertheless a vivid interpreter. The playing of all three ensembles is splendid, the sound generally excellent (though the songs were recorded before a noisy audience). George Hall