LAURENCE CRANE: “Drones, Scales and Objects” – Cicada ensemble – LAWO

by | Jan 15, 2016 | Classical CD Reviews

LAURENCE CRANE: “Drones, Scales and Objects” = Simon 10 Holt 50; Sparling; Riis; Four Miniatures; Come Back to the Old Specimen Cabinet John Vigani; Erki Nool; Estonia – Cicada ensemble – LAWO LWC1083, 48:20 [Distr. by Naxos] (10/02/15) ***:

Rather Feldman-esque works are a pleasant surprise.
First up, I had never heard of Laurence Crane I’m sorry to say. In looking him up I discovered that Crane was born in Oxford and studied composition with Peter Nelson and Nigel Osborne at Nottingham University. His music is mainly written for the concert hall, although his output includes pieces initially composed for film, radio, theatre, dance and installation.

His list of works predominantly consists of instrumental chamber and ensemble music. He has worked with many ensembles in the UK and abroad, including Apartment House, the London Sinfonietta, the Ives Ensemble and the present Cikada Ensemble of Norway. A 1995 Gramophone review described Crane’s music as “as minimal as you can get, and irresistibly droll”.

I think, based on the eight fairly short works here, I do not disagree. The opening Simon 10 Holt 50 as well as the ensuing Sparling and Riis are very gradual works that owe more than a passing resemblance to at least the aesthetic of Morton Feldman.

However, the Four Miniatures have a dark, ominous and surprisingly restless quality to them that did not exactly shatter the mood but did offer some attention-getting variety. We notice a tendency in Crane’s output to name pieces after individuals he wishes to honor in some way. For example, there are works and movements here named after composers Simon Ten Holt, Arvo Part and athlete Erki Nool.

Hands down, however, my favorite title in this set is Come Back to the Old Specimen Cabinet John Vigani, so called after an ornate cabinet to display crystals and such made in 1704 for chemist John Vigani; now a display piece at Cambridge. Just the title alone makes you want to go research this reference – not that the music itself sounds anything at all like a nod to eighteenth century cabinetry.

Crane says his music uses, in analogy, “a box containing a number of (familiar) objects” such as very plain chords, scales, drones and snippets of his own works. The result is something very drawn out and a slightly ‘foggy’ in its momentum and direction. If one is familiar with Feldman or Christian Wolff, this is a bit of what to expect, but Crane uses some very diverse sound sources, including electronic pickups, alternative methods of playing stringed instruments, et cetera.

While this music is certainly not for everyone, I do think it has an appeal in its simplicity of line with an undercurrent of complexity in design. It hardly ever rises above a mezzo-piano and these pieces do move slowly. The embedded harmonies are all consonant and moments in Come Back… are actually quite lovely, for example.

I also commend the Norwegian ensemble Cicada, whose work I have heard before, for their dedicated and unified performance. This type of music actually takes great control and concentration. The listening requires a little of this too but is worth it.

—Daniel Coombs

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