REVIEWS: metier msv 77205  Miniaturised Concertos / Maché

The "What's new?" factor is foremost on the recent 2-CD set Miniaturised Concertos, Mache (Metier msv 77205), which features works for two pianos, chamber ensemble and electroacoustics. The musical director is Kate Halsall and she has done a fine job coming up with exciting new music and guiding the live performances to a satisfying fruition.

The Miniaturized Concertos disk spotlights the twin piano/keys of  Kate herself and Fumiko Miyachi performing works by Andrew Poppy (with chamber ensemble) Naomi Pinnock (with percussion), Philip Cashian (with chamber ensemble), and Colin Riley (with electronics and sound design). This is new-minimalism and post-minimalism in a most original and healthy steady-state.

The second disk, Mache, utilizes multiple piano and keys by Halsall, Miyachi, and others as well as additional instruments, vocals and natural or electronic sounds in the collaging of pre-existing or specially devised compositions and their transformations. Kate and James Waterworth are responsible for the sound design and collages. The results are stunning. Seventeen composers and their works are subjected to recombinatory logic in four Mache segments. The composers involved are, for the record, Ryoko Akama, Joel Bell, Leo Chadburn, Richard Glover, Duncan McLeod, Fumiko Miyachi, Andrew Morgan, Dominic Murcott, Helen Papaioannou, Richard Perks, Emma Ruth Richards, Matthew Rowan, Rowland Sutherland, Timo Tuhkanen, Simon Vincent, Ruta Vitkauskaite and Devon Tipp.

The musical soundscapes-panoramas give us a sort of state-of-the-art window on ultra-post-modern-modern worlds. It makes for a beautiful listen.

This set breaks ground and stimulates the musical ears in rather profound ways. I do not hesitate to recommend it highly. An essential offering for what, indeed, is new out there right now.
Grego Edwards

The Metier Division of Divine Art always has something new to tempt adventurous listeners and so it is with a new release from this label. This new 2CD issue brings us Miniaturised Concertos on disc 1 and Maché on disc 2. Pianist Kate Halsall conceived the idea of the Miniaturised Concerto as a new way to present two-piano repertoire in the context of the avant-garde, rock-fusion and electronic music of today. The result is five major 'concertos' and four works in the style of Maché or collages, medleys of new works by several composers.

This is a totally unique sound experience which fuses classical art-music with the popular idioms and new techniques of performance and recording, involving many of Britain's top names in the worlds of DJ-ing, electronics and sound design. The new recordings are supported by Arts Council England, the Britten-Pears Foundation and the RVW Trust.

The performers on these two discs are Kate Halsall (pianos, keyboards), Jeremy Barnett (percussion), Joel Bell (electric guitar), Martin Butler (piano, keyboard), Leo Chadburn (piano, voice), Marjolaine Charbin (piano), Ruth Goller (electric bass), Duncan MacLeod (electronics), Robert Millett (percussion), Fumiko Miyachi (piano), Andrew Poppy (keyboards), Lucy Shaw (upright bass), Delia Stevens (Percussion), Rachael Ueckermann (piano), James Waterworth (electronics) and ensemble, Dark Inventions.

The first of the Miniaturised Concertos is Andrew Poppy's Swimming with the Stone Book for pianos, keyboard, electric guitars, bass and percussion. Poppy creates some distinctive sounds with a repeated yet subtly developing theme, achieving a fluidity in the lighter and heavier textures that run through the music. There is vibrancy here, with a myriad of colours, minimalist yet allowing some very fine ideas to rise over the repeated rhythmic theme. This composer finds dissonances and a variety of harmonies and textures with many subtle details. Later there is a distinctive lighter texture for pianos and keyboard before the music finds a richer texture with resonant bass. There are pauses in the insistent, rhythmic theme before drums, keyboard and basses introduce a heavy pounding rhythm to which the electric guitar brings the theme with the pianos joining to lead to a sudden end.

The pianos bring scattered staccato chords to introduce Naomi Pinnock's Always again for pianos and percussion, slowly revealing a repeated rhythmic idea. Pianists, Kate Halsall and Fumiko Miyachi provide terrific accuracy through subtly shifting textures before there is a sudden silence with hushed percussion taps. The two pianists start the theme again, developing through continually changing harmonies, always keeping a strident touch. Soon there are more hushed rhythmic tapings before the pianos continue in a changed rhythm, still insistent and strident, though finding more of a depth of sound. There are many varied rhythms and textures around the theme with these two pianists achieving some terrific results. A deep rippling phrase leads into a gentle section as the theme is quietly taken forward with sudden little outbursts from the pianos with hesitant, rhythmic catches, these players finding a terrific continuity.  A light, delicate theme arrives at the higher end of the keyboards before these pianists continue to find many varied rhythms, dynamics and tempi. There are more percussion taps before pianos resume their delicate phrases to the coda.

The ensemble, Dark Inventions join pianists Kate Halsall and Fumiko Miyachi for Philip Cashian's Furor opening with a lively rhythmic theme which they subject to variations using a variety of woodwind instruments and percussion with the pianos adding colour and texture. Indeed Cashian finds many fine colours and textures from his skilful use of instrumental combinations in this repetitive, rhythmic theme.  Soon there is a longer held line as strings join, still with an offset rhythmic line underneath. The pianos ripple through the woodwind before the strings intervene bringing lovely colour and variety. Later there is a short, slower section where flute and violin add an unusual texture. Towards the end the pianos bring a slow meditative section, slowly gaining in rich textures. The flute and violin enter to alternate with the pianos before the whole ensemble joins to bring about the coda.

Colin Riley's Hanging in the Balance for pianos and electronics explores bringing objects to life by stimulating them to resonate along with the music played by the pianos. The piano music is sent by transducers to the skins and working parts of various instruments, here bass drum, snare drum, hi-hat and zither, placed around the stage and made to buzz, rattle and shake. In three parts a two note motif opens Ritual Groove before the pianos, together with percussion like sounds, continue. A strangely diffused sound is created as the instruments appear to reflect off each other. Hushed gravelly textures appear in the distance and deep drum sounds appear as the pianos develop the theme more broadly. There are jazz influenced harmonies from the pianos before the music becomes faster and more dramatic. Hi-hat and drums become more clear and prominent as this more leisurely section proceeds before falling quieter and slower with tentative pianos and percussion trying to find a forward flow but failing.

The theme is slowly and tentatively moved forward and into the second part, Break, Tackle, and Bowl which brings a fast moving theme sounding through the percussion instruments to which the pianos own sound can be heard. There are really vibrant textures with terrific rhythms, with some fine colours as well as varied rhythms and tempo. These pianists provide some terrific pin point accuracy before the music falls quietly into the final part, Scent of an Ending where a little piano motif runs through a hazy, shimmering, resonant percussion layer. Slowly the pianos find a theme, creating a rather intoxicating atmosphere with a descending piano motif over hazy, shimmering electronically shaped percussion, falling quieter with lovely resonating electronic sounds that fade in the coda.

The second disc in this 2 CD set brings the four works in the style of Maché or collages, medleys of new works by several composers.

Maché 1 includes works by Duncan MacLeod, Simon VIncent, Joel Bell and Ryoko Akama and features pianists Kate Halsall, Fumiko Miyachi and Martin Butler, guitarist, Joel Bell and electronics from Duncan MacLeod and Simon Vincent. A piano opens with a little idea that is repeated and developed through some lovely electronically conceived passages. Two pianos take the theme as it is echoed around, finding an almost eastern sound quality, slowly adding a ‘chorus' of electronic sound that overtakes the pianos.  The music rises to an impressive, sonorous level, creating a remarkable sound through which one can imagine a myriad of ideas -  at one point I imagined a terrific peal of bells – through deeper resonances as the music falls back, with the pianos bringing firm resonant chords. A sharper incisive line appears around which the pianos bring sudden faster phrases. There are wiry textures; an electric guitar is heard weaving around a melody before the pianos sound through a longer held electric guitar line. The music moves through a haze of electronic sound with the pianos picking out the theme to fade in the coda.

Maché 2 takes Dominic Murcott's Time and Place to open with a rush of sound through which voices and footsteps, recorded at Chatham Historic Dockyard, can be heard, out of which percussion like sounds emanate. There are occasional piano phrases before the pianos take centre stage as the background fades away, bringing a repeated rhythmic motif. There are varied textures as the rhythm slows and the background sounds re-appear. The pianos fade for a sudden ending.

Maché 3 : includes works by Leo Chadburn, Timo Tuhkanen, Emma-Ruth Richards, Matthew Rowan and Richard Perks. It opens with a voice over piano phrases before slowly making its way through subtly shifting harmonies. Electronics take us into a pulsating layer over which the piano adds a texture before being slowly varied through some slow moving bars with electronic pulsating tones. The voice returns adding descriptive words over piano chords before the pianos trickle notes through a haze of gentle sound. Later two voices appear over the pianos in longer sentences before a fine layer of piano textures develop. The sound of an out of tune piano is heard against a richer piano line as the voices continue, slowly finding a rather languid piano melody before ending quietly.

Maché 4 : includes works by Richard Glover, Helen Papaioannou, Ruta Vitkauskaite, Rowland Sutherland, Andrew Morgan, Fumiko Miyachi and Devon Tipp. The music opens quietly with pianos playing a series of shifting chords, soon joined by resonant piano crashes and tinkling phrases before picking up a pace in a rhythmic theme. The music moves through a strange, electronic resonant passage bringing a slower plodding tempo before increasing to a greater flow with a faster piano theme over more rhythmic ideas. A resonating keyboard crash brings the end.

These are fascinating works that bring a myriad of unusual textures, colours and sonorities allowing the imagination to expand. I cannot imagine the performances being bettered. Pianists, Kate Halsall and Fumiko Miyachi deserve a special mention as the backbone of many of these performances. They are well recorded at various venues and there are useful booklet notes from the composers of the Miniaturised Concertos as well as brief notes on the Maché
There is also a video track not on the CD but available for purchase as a download [] of Katharine Norman's video Making Place . It can also be streamed free of charge via YouTube: [].
Bruce Reader

This highly unusual release includes two projects, as the CD title implies. The miniaturized concertos (this is a British-based project, thus the spelling in the headnote) comprise the first CD, including four new concertos incorporating lots of electronica, and all commissioned by the ringleader of this entire collection, pianist and new music impresario Kate Halsall. The second CD consists of four Machés. What is that, you ask? According to Wikipedia, a maché is a variety of com­mune which occurs in the Loire Valley in France. That makes sense, in as much as these four "sound collages" were assembled by 17 different composers! The composers of the Maches are; Ryoko Akama, Joel Bell, Leo Chadburn, Richard Glover, Duncan MacLeod, Fumiko Miyachi, Andrew Morgan, Dominic Mucott, Helen Papaionnou, Richard Perks, Emma Ruth Richards, Matthew Rowan, Rowland Sutherland, Timo Tuhkanen, Simon Vincent, Ruta Vitauskaite, and Devon Tipp.

The concerto disc is the yang to the yin of the Maché disc. Or, to suggest a more relevant comparison, rock and roll versus jazz. The four concertos for double keyboards, while different in texture and scope, all share a driving sense of rhythm and the sort of repetitive patterns associated with Minimalism. As a kind of aural decoration, these works are interesting, and even alluring, but it is difficult to discern any kind of broad stylistic signatures among the composers. There is an emotional aloofness to all of this music that is, perhaps, part of its quirky charm, but that also creates a kind of sameness of spirit. It almost seems as if they were all written by the same person.

The Machés cover a much greater range of theatricality. In general, they flow at a much more leisurely tempo than the concertos, at moments rhapsodic, even dreamy. The jazzy feel derives from twangy electric guitar effects, relaxed rhythms and even a splash of microtonality. Some of the sound effects seemed superfluous, even hackneyed, such as the recordings of children playing outdoors. But in fairness to the team of enterprising artists involved in these myriad projects, it is best to con­sider this material as a kind of broad experience, for those interested in stretching their listening ex­perience into new worlds of sound.
Peter Burwasser

In the [newspaper version], we lumped this together with John Metcalfe's Appearance Of Colour because they seemed similar but they're not really. Metcalfe's album is soothe and calming and reflective of nature, Halsall is angular and unsettling, and more based in hardware.

Like Metcalfe, Halsall, a pianist, mixes genres; the album stems from a project started in 2012 exploring the traditional piano concerto in new ways. She uses two pianos, various electro-acoustical accompaniment, some jazz and rock instruments, and film.

The opening piece is Swimming With The Stone Book by Andrew Poppy who, like John Metcalfe, has worked on string arrangements in the pop world, in his case with bands such as Psychic Television, Erasure, The The and Strawberry Switchblade.

He also played bass with a rock and there's a definite bass line in Swimming , which looks at how musicians and artists try to create something airy from something heavy and hard to move — which could be music before it's formed or the opinion of the public about what music should be. If all that sounds a bit airy fairy, the music itself is varied and palatable — it's the kind a nature documentary would play as it flew over dappled water. See, he's got us going now, flying over solid objects.

That public opinion tackled by Poppy is met head on by the next piece, Naomi Pinnick's Always Again . Two pianos are “hocketting”; that's the word used by the sleeve notes and it means “hiccupping”. In this case, the two pianos divide a melody and each piano plays when the other is silent. It's a disturbing effect and it starts and stops several times before calming down to more tranquil playing.

Philip Cashian's Furore is next, furore as in “an outbreak of public anger”. The two pianos are definitely having a barney, though it's less aggressive than the previous track. There's possibly a broken drum kit in there, too, presumably expressive of fisticuffs. As with Always Again , it quietens. Cashian is head of composition at the Royal Academy of Music.

Closer is Hanging In the Balance by Colin Riley, which feeds piano music back to various objects to make them resonate — bass drum, snare drum, hi-hat and zither. It's not as bats as it sounds.

Halsall takes music and breaks it down into blocks to create something new, and writing about it is like breaking it down again; it is an experimental album full of new ideas, some of them work less well than others, but it's got a compulsive air about it, and it's more appealing than this review might suggest (admittedly if you want Eine Kleine Nachtmusik , it's going to be too out there for you).

The second disc is more experimental and consists of four Maché pieces, made up of building blocks contributed by a number of composers, some specially written and some being extracts or arrangements of full length works.
Jeremy Condliffe

[Mixed] in its results is Miniaturised Concertos , a double album on the Metier label of piano-focused music performed and/or organised by pianist Kate Halsall . The first disc is not so much problematic as simply aloof: Andrew Poppy ‘s rich minimalistic textures quickly grow tedious, plenty of gloss but nothing much beneath; Colin Riley ‘s exploration of percussive sounds resonated by action from the piano has its moments but at twenty minutes is way overlong, made more engaging with some quite exciting textures that develop into an atmospheric soundworld with electronic shimmerings, but which remains a little too static. Even the normally reliable Naomi Pinnock and Philip Cashian  barely convince: Pinnock's convoluted, athletic moto perpetuo alternating with soft clicks leading to a fragmented, stilted ‘conversation' is more curious than engaging (though its ascetic bloody-mindedness is undeniably admirable), whereas Cashian's highly repetitive, cycling patterns are far more interesting than Poppy's in their inexactitude and halting sense of momentum, but again, one's left shrugging at their machinations.

However, the second disc – under the title Maché , in which seventeen short pieces are turned into “multi-composer remixed ‘concertos'”, including indeterminate aspects – provides much richer music. Maché 2 and 3 share an arbitrariness that makes them frustrating and forgettable, but the other two are superb. Maché 1 (melding material by Duncan MacLeod , Simon Vincent , Joel Bell and Ryoko Akama ) undergoes a lovely development from isolated pitches into a dense, complex electroacoustic soundworld, later emphasising electric guitar, finally becoming a kind of drone. Maché 4 (material by Richard Glover , Helen Papaioannou , Ruta Vitkauskaite , Rowland Sutherland , Andrew Morgan , Fumiko Miyachi and Devon Tipp ) is truly outstanding: resonant chords, dissonant but attractively so, punctuated with hugely powerful and exciting sweeps across piano strings, leading to a pulse-driven episode of momentum and thence into a suspended ambient stasis, laden with spikes in its surging resonant conclusion. At less than five minutes long, it's the shortest piece on both discs, yet by far the most successful and memorable.
Simon Cummings