Anna Snow, voice; Damien Harron, percussion; Azalea Ensemble; Christopher Austin, conductor
A constant, if sometimes subtly articulated, pulse runs through much of British composer Tansy Davies’ Troubairitz, a portrait disc on the Nonclassical imprint. While percussionists Damien Harron and Adam Clifford perform their parts with sensitivity, and are seldom asked for a flurry of activity, their omnipresent exertions have certainly earned them overtime pay. Indeed, sometimes they are required to unfold multiple simultaneous tempi. The terse punctuations that undergird ensemble works such as Neon, Inside Out, and Grind Show demonstrate Davies’ affinity for experimental jazz and pop references. Like fellow British composers Mark-Anthony Turnage and Oscar Bettison, she uses these vernacular references as a foil for the classical instrumentation and dissonant counterpoint that populate her works. Thus, listeners are apt to hear Radiohead and Matmos as much as Knussen and Andriessen serving as touchstones for these pieces. The result is a language that is pervasively energetic, at times spiky, but capable too of moments of delicate repose. The Azalea Ensemble, under the able direction of Christopher Austin, are keen interpreters of this supple and eclectic music.
Some of the most sensitively wrought pieces on the disc are its vocal selections. Again taking a cue from countrymen such as Peter Maxwell Davies and Gavin Bryars, Davies recalls early music in the title work, a song cycle based on 12th Century Provencal poems by female troubadours. Anna Snow’s voice, deployed with sparing use of vibrato, seems ideally suited to “period informed” performance; yet she’s also able to conquer the postmodern pitch language and challenging tessitura of this work with assuredness.
Greenhouses, a setting of an excerpt from an email by Rachel Corrie, an American peace activist killed by Israeli forces while trying to prevent them from destroying Palestinian homes on the Gaza strip in 2003, is a thoughtful and touching piece. Davies is never heavy-handed in treating this delicate subject matter, but instead allows Corrie’s text a poignant, understated eloquence that is most affecting.