SIMON MAWHINNEY (b.1976): Batu for Piano, Barcode III for Violin, Hunshigo for Violin and Piano.
Catalogue Number: 01K099
Description: As Michael Finnissy notes in his appreciative introduction to this CD, Simon Mawhinney's music is characterized by "a balance of mysterious other-worldly stillness and lavish ebullience of texture" and notes his affinity with Sorabji. A genuine, organic connection to Sorabji can be felt in his phrase-shaping, harmony, the building of drawn-out ecstatic tension and its release in catastrophic peroration. Mawhinney was introduced to John Ogdon's legendary recording of Sorabji's 'Opus clavicembalisticum' during a formative stage of his development as a composer, and its impact was profound. The Sorabjian legacy never feels imitative, though; more thoroughly absorbed and transmuted through the younger composer's imagination than that, Mawhinney's scintillating toccata writing, or intricate nocturnal passages are the direct descendants of similar aspects of Sorabji's writing. 'Batu' begins with a skittering toccata, out of which a theme emerges in relief. The title refers to a Hindu shrine in Malaysia, only reachable by the ascent of hundreds of steps. The sense of mounting anticipation as the elaborated 'chant' progresses toward a passage of dissonant chords - a very Sorabjian climax, this - is clearly felt in the piece's forward motion. The composer is a formidable pianist in his own right, and this is instantly apparent in the stunningly virtuosic yet always effective and idiomatic piano writing. 'Barcode III' explores a range of extended violin techniques related to middle-Eastern string playing and methods employed by Sciarrino in the creation of his characteristically fragile and unearthly instrumental sonorities. The piece focuses on extravagant virtuosity and the widest possible range of sounds and techniques. The opening of 'Hunshigo' (the title is the name of a mysterious, isolated lake in Ireland), in sonorous block chords for the piano, begins with a sense of Busonian foreboding, then takes this ambiguous harmonic material in a direction that Ronald Stevenson might have done, before accessing a more chromatic, dissonant soundworld very reminiscent of Messiaen, who clearly remains an influence throughout. The work breathes in long phrases, rising out of mysterious nocturnal mists into an unsettled half-light, a region of the imagination where conscious thought meets dream and unreality. The whole piece, in fact, feels like a journey down through ever more inaccessible areas of pre-conscious thought. Technically, the work is a stunning tour de force for the violin, requiring extraordinary control over breathless phrases that last for minutes on end and a multitude of technical devices all ultimately serving the cause of sustained tension and profound lyricism. The climax, in soaring double-stops over an apocalyptic mælstrom of piano accompaniment is as impressive a passage of chamber music as you are likely to encounter.