Perpetuo: Reels, Drones & Jigs
- For its solo debut, Perpetuo ensemble presents Reels, Drones & Jigs inspired by the tumultuous weather and landscape of the British Isles. The pieces recorded here, several for the first time, flow from the land and the traditional music of those who survived or struggled because of it.There are laments and sad airs, jaunty dances and haunting echoes of the past from such composers as Judith Weir, James MacMillan, Peter Maxwell Davies, David Matthews and Aidan O’Rourke.Perpetuo founder James Turnbull comments: "At its heart this repertoire reflects the way in which composers have been inspired by traditions while breathing new life into the ideas they explore. Perpetuo works in much the same way. We love discovering new music and making it appealing and relevant to new and existing audiences."Founded in 2013, Perpetuo is a dynamic collective of distinguished soloists and orchestral musicians who perform traditional and contemporary chamber music in unusual settings. Through collaborations with everyone from dancers to chefs, the ensemble seeks out audiences who have never engaged with classical chamber music.Turnbull adds: "The repertoire included in this disc reflects the programming of so many concerts Perpetuo enjoys performing. As an ensemble, flexibility in numbers and groupings of instrument are important to how we make our repertoire choices. We often perform recently composed works and embark on exciting commissioning projects. In keeping with this we are excited to begin this disc with a collection of trio compositions from a recent project masterminded by our violinist, Fenella Humphreys."
Perpetuo’s projects have been generously supported by Arts Council England and PRS Foundation in order to bring new music and exciting collaborations to a new audience. In recent years, Perpetuo has commissioned composers such as David Fennessy, Donald Grant, Alasdair Nicolson, Aidan O’Rourke and Ailie Robertson as well as working with composers such as Thomas Hewitt Jones, Cecilia McDowall and Roxanna Panufnik on their music.
- Sleeve Notes
Weather and landscape are never at peace for long in the British Isles. Their close relationship has influenced countless composers, artists and writers, and touches many if not all of the works on this album. The pieces recorded here, several for the first time, flow from the land and the traditional music of those who survived or struggled because of it. There are laments and sad airs, jaunty dances and haunting echoes of the past, that land of lost content which, in its ruins and deserted trackways, today bears silent witness to mass migrations from island crofts and borderland farmsteads. Reels, Drones & Jigs looks back to how things were and forward to how they might be in future, guided perhaps by a sense of the things that really matter, of shared stories and memories, of love of place, nostalgia for home and a feeling for life’s short span.
Ailie Robertson’s art is rooted in but not confined by the diverse repertories of Scottish and Irish traditional music. Born in 1983 and raised in Edinburgh, she began playing harp at the age of twelve. After studying genetics at the University of Cambridge, Robertson paused to reflect on her future. She found the answer to her ‘What next?’ question during a year spent at the Ireland World Academy of Music and Dance in Limerick. Robertson took to the Celtic harp, beguiled by its tonal beauty, and soon forged a career as a traditional musician, propelled by five gold-medal- winning outings at the Royal National Mòd, Scotland’s annual peripatetic festival, and success at the inaugural London Harp Competition. Her compositions, including commissions for the BBC Proms, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, Bang on a Can and the Dunedin Consort, reflect her technical nous, profound feeling for the spirit of Celtic folk art and storytelling and readiness to blur the boundaries between traditional and contemporary music.
Robertson’s string trio The Black Pearl, in company with the four works that follow on this album, was commissioned by Perpetuo and first performed by them in June 2018 as part of the St Magnus Festival at St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall, Orkney. The piece grows from fragments of a Scottish reel married to motifs plucked from the G-minor variations of Bach’s Goldberg Variations. The combination of shifting rhythmic and melodic elements gives voice to an expressive dialogue between violin and viola, intensified by the keening sounds of circular bowing and underpinned throughout by a simple cello riff.
Edinburgh-based fiddler and composer Aidan O’Rourke grew up in a musical Irish family in Argyll. He learned the West Highland style of fiddling at an early age in Oban, began touring with the Caledonia Ramblers during his teens and was named Musician of the Year at the 2014 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards. O’Rourke’s experience as a performer embraces everything from traditional Celtic and world musics to a fusion of jazz, folk, and drum and bass. The distinctive musical language of his compositions has drawn wide attention and brought commissions from, among others, PRS for Music Foundation to mark the 2012 Summer Olympics, the Scottish Ensemble, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Sage Gateshead and Celtic Connections. Canongate opens a window onto O’Rourke’s aesthetic, haunting in its simplicity and concentration. The piece slowly comes to life like early morning on the Edinburgh street for which it is named, where fiddle tunes would have entertained the likes of Boswell and Johnson and there was less of a gap between ‘high’ and ‘low’, ‘traditional’ and ‘classical’.
Alasdair Nicolson became Artistic Director of the St Magnus Festival following the death of its founder and his friend, Peter Maxwell Davies. Born in Inverness and raised on Skye and the Black Isle, he developed the first of his many musical talents playing folk music from the Gaelic tradition and went on to study music at the University of Edinburgh. His breakthrough as a composer came in 1993 when he was chosen to represent Scotland at the International Music Forum in Kiev and won the IBM Composer’s Prize. Nicolson’s wonderfully mischievous The Insomniac’s Jig (or Ms Humphreys’ Lilt) recalls the legend that Bach wrote his Goldberg Variations to comfort their sleepless commissioner, Count Keyserlingk, during the night’s small hours. None shall sleep, appears to be the message, hammered home at first by repeated chords, then by a moto perpetuo jig, a sprightly Scottish homage to Bach.
Irish-born, Glasgow-based composer David Fennessy’s musical apprenticeship included spells playing guitar in rock bands and postgraduate studies with James MacMillan at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. An open field (come closer, come closer), inspired thoughts of Count Keyserlingk’s semi-conscious nocturnal listening sessions, offers a study in string textures and timbres, an exquisite miniature that draws the listener ever deeper into its shimmering soundworld. The work shares with Bach’s Goldbergs what Fennessy calls an ‘intimate setting in the dead of night – still but fidgety, on the cusp of dreams’.
Tàladh, Gaelic for lullaby, lives up to its name. The piece was created by Donald Grant, folk fiddler and violinist in the Elias String Quartet. His passion for music of all kinds was kindled during his childhood in the Highlands of Scotland, where he imbibed traditional airs and dances from his father, a Gaelic singer and teacher. Sound and silence emerge as equals at the opening of Tàladh. Their interchange briefly continues following the arrival of a tender lullaby, the melody of which is dissected and passed among the trio’s players until its final recall in full, presented in simple close harmonies before silence is restored.
Folk tales and fantasies have fuelled many of Judith Weir’s compositions, often pointing to deeper truths buried beneath the surface of fireside stories and popular legend. Airs from Another Planet, written in 1986, takes its lead from the composer’s recollection of reading about the idea of preparing people to establish a colony on Mars by sending them to a remote Scottish island to test their compatibility. Weir explains that her set of airs and dances represents the music of the Scottish colonisers after several generations on the Red Planet: ‘the ancient forms of their national music [is] almost completely lost in translation, with only the smallest vestiges of the national style remaining,’ she notes. Weir weaves three traditional melodies into her set of pieces – ‘The Leys of Luncarty’, given to horn in the Strathspey; ‘Ettrick Banks’, played by clarinet in the Traditional Air; and ‘Miss Margaret Graham of Gartmore’s Favourite’, taken up by the full ensemble in the Jig – but treats them ‘as if refracted through space time, far distances and strange atmospheric effects’. The final movement of Airs from Another Planet reflects Weir’s creative response to the piobaireachd, known to many by its anglicised equivalent, pibroch, a distinct genre within the Highland bagpipe tradition originally associated with the courts of clan chieftains. Her Martian Scots have clearly lost touch with the genre’s variation form; they recall the sound of the pipes with mysterious revenants of percussive piano and chiming piccolo sounds.
Known to theatre audiences worldwide for his scores for the National Theatre’s productions of War Horse, Angels in America, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and Coram Boy, Adrian Sutton moves with ease between concert, theatre and electronic genres. The Olivier Award-winning composer’s Spring Masque, for violin and viola, connects with the enduring tradition of pastoral in British art to create a celebration of rebirth and renewal, represented by myriad returns and transformations of the work’s joyful theme.
Untold explores the lyrical and tonal possibilities available to a quintet of flute, cor anglais, clarinet, horn and bassoon. James MacMillan wrote the work to fulfil a commission from the Ayr Arts Guild for the Flaxton Ensemble in 1987, the year in which he completed his doctoral studies in composition at the University of Durham. He made subtle revisions to its score four years later. Untold draws its raw material from the Irish love song ‘For Ireland I’ll not tell her name’, echoed in melodic fragments and present more generally in the music’s wistful nature.
Peter Maxwell Davies held a deep respect and love for the people and music of Orkney, cultivated over the decades he lived and worked on the remote islands of Hoy and Sanday. Midhouse Air, written in 1996, belongs to a series of pieces steeped in popular tradition and reflective of the vibrancy of life lived on northern Europe’s weather-beaten margins. The piece starts with a lilting solo air and grows in complexity during the violin and viola’s contrapuntal dialogue. Rather than indulge melancholy, Davies rejects introspection in favour of a foot-tapping reel.
Among the many valedictory tributes paid to Peter Maxwell Davies in the year of his death, David Matthews’ A Song for Max stands out for its touching charm. ‘The scoring is the same as in [Schoenberg’s] Pierrot lunaire, that hugely important piece in Max’s life,’ notes Matthews. The piece, written for the composer’s memorial concert in November 2016 at Kings Place in London, grows from a simple ‘folk’ melody, invented by Matthews in Orcadian style and stated four times in different instrumentations. Its final appearance, embroidered with the song of the thrush, leads to an exquisite chordal conclusion, perhaps a purely instrumental expression of the thought, ‘Fare-well Max’.
All bagpipe pibrochs, whether ancient or composed in more recent times, are cast in theme and variations form, with a simple, slow theme, sometimes based on a song or ballad, acquiring increasingly elaborate melodic ornamentations as each piece unfolds. Melinda Maxwell was already well known as a virtuoso oboist and champion of new music by the time she composed Pibroch in 1981. The piece sows the seeds of development in its opening bars, implying harmonies that later come into focus as the solo oboe, joined by a drone bass, twists and gyres around the pibroch theme. Gradually the variations move far from the original tune to reveal an entirely new melody.
Britain’s unquiet landscape leaves its mark on Cecilia McDowall’s Subject to the Weather. The piece, written for the 2010 Presteigne Festival’s Creating Landscapes project, echoes the Welsh folksong The Blackbird and Samuel Sebastian Wesley’s hymn tune ‘Aurelia’, otherwise known as ‘The Church’s one foundation’. Subject to the Weather was directly inspired by the story of Hick’s Farm in Powys and the co- operative enterprise created there in the 1880s by the local Methodist schoolmaster, Thomas Strange, to help alleviate poverty and deprivation.
‘As Methodism lies at the heart of Hick’s Farm,’ notes McDowall, ‘I have used the well-known hymn tune, ‘Aurelia: the Church’s One Foundation’, written by Samuel Wesley’s son, S. S. Wesley, to underpin the structure of the quintet.’ The work marks The Blackbird in outline at its opening and quotes the folksong in full in its reflective second half. McDowall’s choice of title derives from an observation made by Johnny Arkwright – landowner, magistrate and supporter of the labourers’ movement – who fully understood the fragile nature of farming. ‘No other industry,’ he observed, ‘is to the same extent subject to the weather.’
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