Minimalism and complexity seem unavoidable labels. Though they’re inadequate, they offer some guide to the listener through the confusing mass of contemporary composition. But then along comes Chris Fox, a composer who messes up journalistic simplifications because he clearly has affinities with both camps. More Light is the first of two CDs of Fox’s music on Metier, which is becoming an essential source of some of the most uncompromising new compositions.
Chris Fox, born in 1955, is a tantalising figure in British music. None of the pieces in Ian Pace’s recital of his piano scores is remotely similar. This seems to be true of Fox’s output as a whole – less conventional works include “Trummermusik” for mezzo-soprano and hurdy-gurdy, and the multimedia “Alarmed And Dangerous” , which crosses the boundaries of documentary, radio play and music. This disparate quality follows from Fox’s avowed rejection of style – and rhetoric – in favour of musical process.
All the pieces here are first recordings. Influences come from many directions. More Light is the major work, and its slow music a memorial to Morton Feldman. The attempt to achieve ‘light’ ends in forlorn failure. Complementary Forms is dedicated to Michael Finnissy on his 50th birthday, while Paired Off is based around Satie’s “Pear-Shaped Pieces”. More things in the air than are visible involves tape in its two outer movements. There’s parallel with the Irish composer Gerald Barry, who’s similarly non-expressive and exploits a wide variety of approaches. The results here are undeniably intriguing – music where there’s always a lot going on, often beneath an apparently bland exterior. Highly Recommended.