Serious Business

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Chris Fisher-Lochhead,David Reminick,Joseph Haydn,Sky Macklay
LABELS: Sono Luminus
ALBUM TITLE: Serious Business
WORKS: Works by Haydn, Macklay, Reminick and Fisher-Lochhead
PERFORMER: Spektral Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: Sono Luminus DSL-92198

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‘Playing this album will not induce … gut-busting, teary-eyed revelry’ begins the booklet essay. No, indeed. Instead, here’s a forensic examination of humour within and via music: from Haydn’s delight in thwarting expectations to musical transcriptions of actual live stand-up comedy (without words).

Sky Macklay’s Many many cadences belongs in the same camp as Haydn’s Joke: while the father of the string quartet couldn’t resist sending up rondo form and complacent audiences in his trap-door-littered Presto, she rains down ludicrous numbers of cadences. The minute they’ve landed, they jump back up to the stratosphere, a sort of diatonic bungee-jumping which morphs into a gravity-free, slow-motion interlude. It’s preposterous, charming and brilliantly performed. These four dizzyingly accomplished musicians are more than equal to David Reminick’s The Ancestral Mousetrap, in which they have to act, narrate and sing in four parts while playing explosively dynamic music. A shame we can’t decipher what is, presumably, Russell Edson’s amusing but unprinted libretto.

They inject Haydn’s Joke with suitable sangfroid, souping-up the schmaltzy trio. And they sneak in the Presto’s catchy little phrase as a witty pay-off to the disc, in an unlisted final track. In between comes the weird Hack, Chris Fisher-Lochhead’s transcription of 32 audio-graphed moments of stand-up from 16 American comedians. Every cadence, pause, rhythm and metre change is faithfully caught, from Robin Williams’s minute of frenzy to Richard Pryor’s tender, meandering appeal. I think you probably had to be there.

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Helen Wallace