If Philip Glass’s take on Vivaldi is aimed at mass appeal, this work from Philip Grange is at some other end of a spectrum. It’s far from difficult but it’s also not a lightweight piece you can instantly relax into. Grange is an academy and professor of music at Manchester University and there is a suitably academic, technical feel to this.
Tiers of Time opens with edgy violin and piano, the piano soon moving down to the bass and creating a feeling of foreboding. The homage of the title refers to the fact that the works are homages to other composers and authors, and Tiers was written in 2007 for a concert given to mark the retirement from Manchester of a friend and colleague, composer John Casken.
It was inspired by the landscape of the Peak District — not the swooping beauty on a summer’s date but the gloomy moorlands (though he does concede “and the breath-taking vistas often illuminated by powerful sunlight” in the sleeve notes). There is a stark beauty to the piece.
Elegy for solo cello is more soothing, and was written following a visit to the grave of the poet Edward Thomas, killed at Arras in 1917; inspired by a grave and thinking of the senseless loss of life, this is a thoughtful piece, with some moments of beauty thanks to the cello. In fact, fans of mournful cello music will probably find this programme easiest to access.
Piano Trio: Homage to Chagall makes its homage obvious; the sleeve notes explain it fully, but it’s a bustling, edgy piece. The final work is Shifting Thresholds, inspired by Samuel Beckett. A bit like Beckett, it’s a bit mysterious and constantly shifting. It was more directly inspired by a novel of Beckett, Malone Dies, about someone on the verge of dying who invents stories to keep himself entertained; waiting for God, so to speak.
It’s an album that seeks to create a mood rather than offering melody, and although it does stand repeated plays it is perhaps one to match the mood of the listener.
Gemini is a leading British chamber ensembles and its association with Grange goes back to the mid-1990s.
This is out now on Metier, MSV 28591.
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