The earliest of Metier’s Finnissy chamber discs, titled Lost Lands, dates back to 2002, and is chiefly focussed on music with an emphasis on lines either in isolation or in dialogue with one or more others. The oboe, performed here by Christopher Redgate, is in the spotlight most of the time. In Moon’s goin’ down it’s entirely alone, alternating between slow, sliding, siren-like undulations and fast ornamental writing, temporarily thrown out of whack by a lengthy mess of trills Finnissy throws into the mix in its latter stages.
Runnin’ wild is also a solo, which takes some time to live up to its title; contemplative, even ponderous early on, seemingly thinking things through in real time, it eventually lets rip with more and more protracted bursts, notes spilling out of the instrument all over each other. Along the way there are some more mellifluous asides, passionate but somewhat plaintive. Dilok, Delal and Kulamen Dilan pair up a solo instrument (oboe, oboe d’amore and soprano sax respectively) with percussion. The relationship between the two players varies: in Delal the oboe’s fast, assertive microtones easily dominate the granular metallic sounds until halfway through when the percussion switches to full-blooded toms that regularly threaten to overwhelm. The oboe only seems to survive but extending its notes to almost absurd lengths, but it works, bringing about an emphatic, very exciting dual effort at the work’s conclusion.
Delal is more of a dialogue, the percussion decorating the oboe d’amore’s mournful melodies; the focus here is more on the shifting densities of the musical argument, but its abrupt end is more a termination than a conclusion. There’s a dance-like aspect to Kulamen Dilan, sax and tambourine regularly falling into patterns of cyclic repetition until, like Dilok, an abrupt midway shift in the percussion brings about a dramatic second half, the sax projecting almost too forcefully over wave after wave of drum tremolandi. A trio for oboe, bassoon and piano, Keroiylu rapidly reduces from a feverish contrapuntal texture to a simpler and narrower environment: the bassoon eventually drops out and the piano ends up as just a single line. Halfway through (the midpoint of Finnissy’s works often seems to be an important structural catalyst) the trio restarts with gusto but again immediately diminishes, with the piano now dropping out leaving a lengthy two-part invention for the oboe and bassoon alternating between extremes of dynamic.
Title work Lost Lands, for E-flat clarinet, soprano sax, guitar, violin and piano, dates from 1977 and at nearly twenty-five minutes is by far the longest work on the disc. From the outset the work’s scope is evidently broad, the ensemble moving without haste, conveying that there’s much ground to cover: there’s nothing tentative about this, the music feels ambitious, even potentially visionary. Finnissy keeps the foreground shifting, with melody usually predominating over sustained resonances, and over time the music’s general attitude slowly shifts too, away from melody to a more behavioural/textural emphasis, the ensemble always acting as a group, moving carefully together (instrumental unity is arguably displayed more demonstratively here than in any of the works discussed above). It’s perhaps not obvious from that description, but the soundworld of Lost Lands is simply gorgeous: intimate, emotive, even sensuous at times. The music gets suddenly skittish later on, leading to a lengthy soprano sax conclusion, so strained that vocalisations regularly emerge, ending in a ferocious sequence of urgent squawks. Anyone familiar with Chris Redgate’s playing will know what to expect from these oboe pieces: his performances are blindingly exhilarating, particularly in the duets with Julian Warburton’s percussion, and the rendition of Lost Lands by Topologies is genuinely amazing.
All of the Metier discs are important listening for those wanting a deeper understanding of Michael Finnissy’s music, but this disc is absolutely essential.