My first encounter with Jeffrey Lewis’s music came via a disc that explored a series of works including Threnody, Cantus , and Teneritas , amongst others. The Port Talbot-born composer, who studied with Stockhausen and Ligeti, has a fondness for stark titles redolent of the Latinate or Greek, something one finds in this latest disc of his music.
Silentia Noctis (Silence of the Night) is a setting of Helen Waddell’s translation of Petronius which has retained some Latin lines. As the notes suggest, Lewis alludes subtly to plainchant in this setting. With a vocal line acutely sensitive to the texts and a hinting, alluding and prompting piano line, this is a fine and in many ways compelling setting. It was first performed by Jane Webster and Nicholas Bosworth, both good musicians, and is played here by Caroline MacPhie and David Jones, both excellent. The latter is an important motor of this disc and his notes are an added pleasure.
Duologue is the earliest work in this collection. Written in 1971 it carries a dedication to Denes and Anneliese Zsigmondy, a well regarded duo. This is a work marked by urgent correspondence between the violin and piano, by delicate tracery for the piano (try from 2:20 on) and the navigation of more refined colours and textures for both instruments. Lines thin to gauzy near-silence and then burgeon into renewed life with precise, active figuration. Darting gestures and violin pizzicato are two effects that make their mark in this thoroughly convincing and appealing work.
David Jones makes a solo appearance in Sereno (2004), a mosaic-like piece which in a way reminded me of Lewis’s Threnody . There is indeed a refined and ‘serene’ quality to the writing, slow moving and rapt. Scena is, like Duologue , another piece for violin and piano and a multi-faceted narrative. There’s lots of playing in the violin’s higher registers, and this gives the music urgency and drive, and tension. When the music slows to a crawl it becomes, however, reduced to its essence. Stratos is written for a chamber ensemble that includes electric guitar, glockenspiel and vibraphone. Again its structure is mosaic-like, full of patterns, and colourful sonorities; refractive light, too. Circling, oscillatory figures are taken up by other instruments, ascending lines moving toward a dreamlike close.
Once again Lewis has been admirably served by his engineers and by committed and subtle performances.