Musical Pointers

Here is another useful compendium of music by Manchester based composer and teacher John Casken (b.1949), covering some 20 years of his compositional life. He is an adaptable composer, well represented on CD, whose idiom is accessible-modernist. Each of these eight works is c. a quarter of an hour in duration. Most of the music has literary or dramatic triggers, more relevant perhaps to the composer himself than always to listeners? Of interest also, is that Casken is a painter and provides his own cover illustration. It is good to have the two versions of Après un silence, to give insight into how he works. I was especially glad to hear again the two-piano Salamandra, which I remember vividly from an early performance in 1986 by the same artists who have joined forces again to record it. The Piano Quartet was a Domus commission, an opportunity to remind readers about my best musical read last year, Beyond the Notes by Susan Tomes. Firewhirl sets a George Macbeth poem about revels in Finland; the words are impossible to follow (always difficult with high-lying soprano lines) and the text is not supplied; the six pages of biography could have been shortened to make room for the poem? The recordings (1992 & 1993 in Manchester) are good and the production is of Metier’s usual high standard. We thought the cover picture was shown upside-down, but the composer/painter disagrees!

—Peter Grahame Woolf