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Rebecca Saunders: Skin etc

Christian Dierstein, Dirk Rothbrust (percussion); Juliet Fraser (soprano); Klangforum Wien; Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra/Enno Poppe; Quatuor Diotima (NMC)

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

Rebecca Saunders
Void*; Unbreathed**; Skin†
*Christian Dierstein, Dirk Rothbrust (percussion); †Juliet Fraser (soprano); †Klangforum Wien; *Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra/Enno Poppe; **Quatuor Diotima
NMC NMCD263   70:20 mins


Scraping strings; the hum of Japanese singing bowls; silence – Rebecca Saunders explores the sculptural properties of sound, focusing on contrasting and complementary timbre rather than traditional harmony.

Unbreathed may only be her second string quartet – following 2012’s Fletch – but its whispered notes and unexpected outbursts reveal Saunders’s mastery of the form, following the legacy left by Beethoven and Bartók. The one-movement work sets up a restricted parameter around the middle register D; dedicatees Quatuor Diotima riot in this prison cell, but it is the cello that opens the door, bringing fresh space that allows the music to gasp a fleeting breath.

In Void non-traditional percussion – such as aluminium flower pots – injects colour into Saunders’s already-distinctive sonic palette. Percussionists Christian Dierstein and Dirk Rothbrust offer phrases into the space created by the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra. The shifting textures are occasionally interrupted by instrumental outbursts – a reference to the voices in Samuel Beckett’s 13 Texts For Nothing (1947-52).

Juliet Fraser is the spiralling soloist in Skin; swaggering between feverish virtuosity, muttered musings and penetrating trills, the soprano works wonderfully with 13 members of Klangforum Wien, led by Bas Wiegers.


Claire Jackson