PERFORMER: BBC SO/Richard Bernas
CATALOGUE NO: D017M DDD
Thirty-four minutes of grindingly dissonant music for 15 brass players and a battery of drums without even a pause for breath – it sounds like a recipe for musical purgatory. But it’s nothing of the kind. Despite the occasional violent outbursts, this is meditative music; we’re invited to listen to a sound or a texture, and trace its gradual evolution through generous tracts of time. And the sounds are surprisingly beautiful.
Bernas takes great care never to let the textures sound aggressive or clotted, and he and the players have made wonderfully subtle use of electronic ring modulation. The sleeve-notes talk intimidatingly of ‘moment form’, which allows the players a certain freedom to reorder the sections of the piece; but Smalley has cunningly chosen an order which lets the piece swell to a climax at the two-thirds point, fall away for a moment, and then gather itself for a final apocalyptic crescendo. Bernas projects this dramatic shape with great finesse. All praise to NMC for rescuing a fine Sixties piece from oblivion, and to its engineers for making this difficult piece sound so well. Ivan Hewett