This is my first encounter with Kevin Raftery. Well that is not strictly true. If memory serves there was a Kevin Raftery in my class at primary school. I seem to remember that that Kevin was as láthair a fair bit. So to be precise this is my first encounter with composer Kevin Raftery who shares a hometown with Miles Davis. However if I understand correctly this Kevin has now been living on the European side of the Atlantic almost as long as he did on the American side.
This CD opens with Raftery's second string quartet completed five years ago. When you see it is titled Serioso you may well think of Beethoven's eleventh quartet and surprisingly, or maybe not, you would be correct to do so, as the latter is the inspiration for the former. When I learned this I immediately thought of Robert Simpson's three string quartets from the 1970s which were a sort of musical essay inspired by Beethoven's three Razumovsky quartets. As it had been a while, I listened to Simpson's fifth quartet - the centerpiece of that trilogy - and was reminded of the best and worst of Simpson, which I won't go into here. Whereas when I listened to Raftery's Beethoven inspired work I had no misgivings at all; the piece made a solely positive impression.
I appreciated the fact that the composer put greater distance between himself and Beethoven. The soundworld of this quartet is closer to Carter than to Beethoven. That said however there is no overridingly obvious influence on the music of Kevin Raftery which for any composer writing today, with all that he or she has behind them, can only be high praise. Without prior knowledge I think most listeners would be hard pressed to recognise the Beethovenian fingerprints behind this palimpsest. If you listen to the two works side by side you will start to hear melodic and harmonic traces of the older in the newer but that is hardly the point, is it? What matters is that Raftery's second quartet more than adequately speaks for itself to the extent that it is the most absorbing new string quartet that I have had the pleasure to encounter recently.
Listen — Kevin Raftery: Cool, poised, alert (String Quartet No 2, 'Serioso')
(msv 28600 track 2, 0:00-1:00) ℗ 2022 Kevin Raftery :
Cook from Frozen is a piece for piano solo played by that great champion and facilitator of contemporary music, Clare Hammond. When she plays with such dazzling technique, beautiful tone and interpretative intelligence as this, it is not hard to understand why her playing is in such demand and rated so highly. It is a rhapsodic, searching piece lying somewhere between Scriabin and Bill Evans with a much more modal feel than anything in the string quartet.
Listen — Kevin Raftery: Cook From Frozen
(msv 28600 track 4, 0:00-0:55) ℗ 2022 Kevin Raftery :
Throughout the various forms and textures offered to the listener on this generously filled disc, one is constantly aware that none of this music is just a score on a printed page. (The contrary is one of my gripes with the music of Robert Simpson.) Everything here is wonderfully attuned to the specific characteristics innate to the various instruments and forces for which Raftery composes. This is exemplified in his writing for voices. Raftery is no stranger to choirs. Being an insider as it were I suppose explains, to a degree, his talent when writing for these forces. One of the most extraordinary choral pieces I know and love is Arthur Lourié's In the Temple of Golden Dream written in 1919. I was reminded of this piece when listening to Raftery's setting of In Prison by Richard Lovelace. The sumptuous harmonic spectrum he creates in this piece is quite magical. The performance by EXAUDI on this and all the choral pieces here is magnificent.
Listen — Kevin Raftery: From Prison (Three English Poems)
(msv 28600 track 9, 0:01-0:51) ℗ 2022 Kevin Raftery :
Musica Fermata for two muted violins starts out as an entrancing study in stasis and the most subtle of changes. The evanescence gradually builds into something more solid. The middle section is a sort of vociferous squabbling dawn chorus before we return to the hypnotic serenity from where we started. Sound almost imperceptibly slides into silence. Musica Fermata becomes Musica Callada.
Listen — Kevin Raftery: Musica Fermata
(msv 28600 track 6, 10:44-11:42) ℗ 2022 Kevin Raftery :
We started out with the composer in a serious tête-à-tête with Beethoven and we end with a three way paying of respects. Elegy upon Elegy was written in memory of the still sadly missed Oliver Knussen and Raftery's work quotes from an elegy that Knussen himself composed for Andrzej Panufnik. As a lament on Ollie's passing, there is a nice touch in the piece when the wind players are asked to stand as a mark of respect. It is a septet which the composer says was written to accompany other famous works of similar scale in concert programmes. It is not surprising therefore that one is reminded of Stravinsky's Septet. Although with darker colours more akin to Alban Berg. There is a spotlight on the bassoon, Raftery's own instrument and, very enjoyably, a little moment for the double bass to shine. A touch of Scott LaFaro to go with the Bill Evans we had earlier, although that is probably just erroneous musing on my part.
The playing throughout this CD is excellent and the recorded sound is as good as one could wish for. The liner notes show the composer to be a no nonsense straight talker. His music demonstrates similar qualities; everything here seems to be the result of a lifetime of honing his art like a carpenter chipping away until absolutely nothing superfluous remains. The artwork likewise seems to be in harmony with the music. I feel that nothing I have written here fully does justice to the richness of textures and sonorities nor the sheer generosity of invention on display on this CD. You will just have to buy it and hear it for yourselves. To sum up, this is one of the most richly stimulating, impressive and sheerly enjoyable CDs of music, new or old, that I have heard in quite some time. If Kevin Raftery and Métier are thinking of bringing a third child into this mess of a world, I will be more than happy to babysit.
Copyright © 30 September 2022