DAVID SAWER (b.1961): Rumpelstiltskin Suite, Cat’s-Eye, April\March.
Catalogue Number: 10V056
Description: As in the previous disc of his work that we offered (06I131 - how can it possibly be 12 years ago?), Sawer displays a taste for the macabre and strange, and for depicting scenes and actions in precise, detailed musical imagery that is almost tactile in its evocative skill. There is a strong core of tonality to his idiom, but as the booklet notes astutely observe, his style achieves its combination of direct accessibility and biting precision of observation from his skill in " ... filtering so-called art and popular idioms through an astringent, sometimes very dissonant and kaleidoscopic tonality." Repeating gestures and a kind of quirky, stuttering mechanical quality often propel his scores. This is especially apt in Cat's Eye, which takes its title from part of the optical mechanism of the Fantascope, an early, sophisticated magic lantern, that thrilled audiences with images of spirits and demons. The work is continuous, but clearly divided into a series of grotesques. As Sawer wryly observes of the contraption: "I can imagine the thing was not averse to breaking down.", and a jittery, stuttering quality to some of the episodes suggests this in the music. The Rumpelstiltskin Suite is derived from the composer’s ballet on the fairy tale, in which the title character is far from being the only unpleasant grotesque; all four of the principals behave abominably. Sawer delineates these characters and their activities in detailed relief, in pungent Stravinskian harmony larded with dissonance and an alchemical approach to instrumental combinations and timbres; spun gold is spun out of harp and string textures; the ungainly gnome is at once malevolent and ridiculous, clumsily dancing in stumbling bass winds and brass; wedding bells are perfectly depicted in woodwinds without a percussion instrument in sight. April\March is based on a story by Jorge Luis Borges, so you know straight away that things will not be what they seem. The story concerns a highly critical appraisal of a mythical novel by an imaginary author, remarkable for its structure which creates different possible worlds depending on which version of events preceding those of a given chapter are chosen from the chapters that follow it. Sawer's interpretation of this puzzle is to present a piece that seems to have a narrative shape made up of episodes of dramatic or sentimental, mysterious or ominous, character, but on closer examination turns out to make much use of mnemonic, repetitive and retrograde musical devices to distort the perceived linearity of successive musical events. Birmingham Contemporary Music Group; Martyn Brabbins.