ALBUM TITLE: Montague
WORKS: Southern Lament; After Ives… – Four Studies; Haiku; Paramell Va; Thanksgiving Hymn; A Crippled Ghost at Halloween
PERFORMER: Philip Mead (piano); with Nancy Ruffer (flute, piccolo), Monica Acosta (voice), Elysian Quartet, London Sousa Band/Stephen Montague (piano, electronics)
CATALOGUE NO: D 118
A composer who sets off four different recordings of Maurice Ravel’s Boléro in a hallowed Abbey – before inviting the audience to release balloons into the fan vaulting – might not seem like a man with ‘reverence’ at the top of his agenda. Yet what hits you time and again in this disc is Stephen Montague’s reverence for sound (in a Cageian sense), and his reverence for a truthfulness that treads an adroitly-negotiated path between visceral immediacy and intellectual ingenuity. He’s an omnivorous sampler of anything that might be bent to his own purposes – and when he dallies with cliché, there’s usually a transcending sting in the tail. The disc’s title, Southern Lament, flags up the 1997 soundscape charting the American Deep South as distilled in its ballads and Spirituals. A deconstruction as gritty as coarse sandpaper, as tender as a powerfully imagined lament.
The other big work is After Ives… (four of the six movements are recorded here), a salute from one maverick to another that contrives a hoe-down for the end of time amid a deal of gleeful ambiguity. But the occasional pieces tell their own story too – from the gothic romp of Headless Horseman to the sonorously tremulous swellings of Thanksgiving Hymn. Philip Mead, a longtime collaborator with Montague, sweeps all before him. Formidable pianism, ear-stretching music. Paul Riley