WORKS: A Yardstick to the Stars; Eloge; Processions and Dances,
PERFORMER: Teresa Cahill (soprano), John Constable, John McCabe (piano), Paul Silverthorne (viola); Brunel Ensemble/Christopher Austin
CATALOGUE NO: D 065
The pieces in this useful, well-executed survey of Robert Saxton’s smaller-scale vocal and instrumental works span more than 15 years. Between the earliest here, the tightly woven Arias for oboe and piano (1977), and the most recent, the 1995 piano quartet A Yardstick to the Stars, his music shifted its emphasis significantly; the fascination with busy, intricate textures and tightly knit harmonic schemes gradually gave way to music that is much more explicitly goal-directed, in which identifiable themes rather than pitch collections bind the argument together.
What he writes is still strictly organised, however, and it’s the use of careful proportioning that gives A Yardstick to the Stars, the longest and most impressive piece on this disc, its sense of purpose, whether or not you follow Saxton’s elaborate astronomical explanation for the work’s rationale. Eloge, for soprano and ensemble, sets French texts (Supervielle and St John Perse) in a neatly tailored shape that’s quietly effective, but in some of the other pieces, like the Processions and Dances and the Invocation, Dance and Meditation, the music seems to fall into a formal stereotype – a slow beginning that presents the basic material, an acceleration pulling all the threads together into a dancing climax, and a final lingering fade; it can get rather predictable. Andrew Clements