Kevin Raftery is a St. Louis born composer now based in London. This intriguing omnibus of his chamber music presents a musical personality that is, at turns, somber, puckish, and alert to the voices of musical history. The opening work, a single-movement string quartet, definitely belongs in the somber camp, not surprising as it was written as a reflection on the life of a recently deceased friend. The work starts out with a slow burn, then bursts into brighter, more vigorous activity, only to return to a more contemplative state. This cycle continues, until loud baleful chorus erupts with “all the violence they can muster,” in the composer’s words, only to settle back down, spent of energy and emotion, to conclude the approximately 15 minute work.
First Companion, written for the compelling ensemble of clarinet, bassoon, violin, and cello, lightens up the mood somewhat, and although Raftery’s language is decidedly modern, he makes allusions to classic literature (Canterbury Tales), and draws musical inspiration from Classical sources, including Beethoven, whose boldly dramatic style is echoed here. The nine-sectioned Pleasantries is the most accessible music on the CD and, I must admit, the one that gave me the most pleasure. It is openly jocular, but in a generally sly and even sarcastic way. The titles of the short works (the longest is just under three minutes) are as intriguing as the music, and reflect the sense of wit and theater Raftery creates with this wind quartet. How about “I was gobsmacked,” or “You can say that again”? The individual pieces are homages to an interesting group of American composers, including George Perle, Elliott Carter, Conlon Nancarrow, Morton Feldman (his piece is “How pathetic”), and Frank Zappa.
The concluding Quintet for Flute, Harp, Violin, Viola, and Cello is a sometimes dark but also reverent memorial to the composer’s mother, who “hated sadness,” a quality celebrated in the sprightly Vivace. As with the rest of the program, this is the music of a rather quirky, but intelligent and compelling artist. The performances are uniformly excellent.