Gramophone

Pianist Ian Pace, who was the star of last year’s double-CD Finnissy album from Meter, takes a back seat in this latest addition to the series. It is as well recorded as ever, and offers a substantial and memorable programme. This time it’s Christopher Redgate, oboist in Pace’s Topologies ensemble, who is featured, and Redgate’s phenomenal breath and finger control is heard to startling effect in two solo pieces whose titles – Moon going’ down and Runnin’ wild – evoke jazz standards, while steering well clear of the clichés often found in more explicit ‘crossover’ music.

All the other works (composed between 1977 and 1990) demonstrate Finnissy’s affinity with ethnic musics and, in the case of Lost Lands, with the ideas of the anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss. Finnissy has a genius tor transforming diverse source materials into his own intricate, intense style, while remaining true to the ethos of the original. Here, the trilogy formed by Dilok, Delal and Kulamen Dilan is inspired by Kurdish folk music, and in the third piece soprano saxophone replaces oboe in a duelling duet with percussion. This encapsulates the virtuosity with which the composer spins an elaborate yet rawly expressive melodic line against explosive rhythmic patterns which seem to stimulate the melody while at the same time seeking to overwhelm it.

Lost Lands is the longest work, its complex single-movement form well-shaped under expert conductor Mikel Toms. The music is suffused with that spirit of anger and lament which fits with Finnissy’s ethical concern to use folk material ‘to redress imbalance and neglect’. But Keroiylu for oboe, bassoon and piano is even more powerful. The title refers to an heroic folk dance from Azerbaijan, and in Finnissy’s response hyperactive scurryings within narrow spans are set in stark relief by more expansive yet no less dramatic materials. If you need convincing that so-called ‘complex’ composers live in the real world, you need look no further.

—Arnold Whittall