Tuesday 1 August 2017

In Damascus: music for string quartet and more by Jonathan Dove

Jonathan Dove - In Damascus
Jonathan Dove Piano Quartet, Out of Time, In Damascus; Charles Owen, Mark Padmore, Sacconi Quartet; Signum Classicsl
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jul 24 2017
Star rating: 4.0

Dove's powerful chamber cantata provides the centrepiece for a striking programme of contrasting chamber works

One of my American correspondents came across Jonathan Dove's Piano Quintet and was most enthusiastic about the work, so I was delighted to be able to make the piece's acquaintance on this new disc from the Sacconi Quartet on Signum Classics, where they perform the work with pianist Charles Owen. Also on the disc is Dove's Out of Time for string quartet, and In Damascus for tenor and string quartet (with tenor Mark Padmore). In Damascus is a powerful setting of text by Ali Safer translated by Anne-Marie McManus.

Jonathan Dove's Piano Quartet (from 2009) was commissioned by the Spitalfields Festival, where Dove was artistic director from 2001-2006, to celebrate the 80th birthday of George Law, a long-standing patron of the festival. Though technically abstract, in three movements, the music reflects the circumstances of its creation in Umbria where Dove had a six month fellowship, a period of deliberate time out following his opera The Adventures of Pinocchio. There is nothing very Italian about the music, there is however a sense of lightness and warmth, and anyone familiar with Dove's operas will recognise the highly engaging style of the music.

The first movement, Energetic, starts with familiar Dove gestures, rippling arpeggios, rhythms, repeated motifs. At first the piano seems primary, but then the strings take up the piano ideas. This is highly engaging music with a sense of energetic pulse throughout, the instruments creating a quasi-operatic drama at times. The slow movement, Very Spacious, starts with a sense of quiet stasis, until the piano takes command with dramatic material. Though this develops, calm returns and this movement does seem led by the piano, with the ending moving back towards the stasis of the opening. The final movement, Lively, starts out with a trope on a repeated minimalist-style passage but this takes on a strong edge, building with excitement to the climax.

Out of Time (2001) is the earliest piece on the disc and, so-far, Dove's only piece for string quartet alone. The piece is a collection of six short movements which Dove describes as 'a serenade for someone I never met'. It starts by generating excitement with repeated figures made of repeated notes, this contrasts with the second movements spare quiet. The next three movements are all short, from the lovely but fractured textures to fast repetition. The final movement is the longest, with a sense of quiet unfolding and unwinding and by the end a feeling of 'will it ever stop' till it ends mid-air. This is an engaging, serenade-like piece which relies on the varied textures and highly involving performance for its effect.

In Damascus is the most recent piece on the disc, commissioned by the artists on this recording for the Sacconi Festival in Folkestone. The Syrian connection was suggested by the quartet, and Dove drew on his memories of a trip 20 years ago but coloured by more recent events, using words taken from Ali Safar's A Black Cloud in a Leaden Sky (from the collection Syria Speaks) poetic prose finely rendered into English by Anne-Marie McManus. It is a remarkable piece, with Safar's text being notable for its poetic restraint and intensity. This matched by Dove who sets the piece in a series of sections, but in effect creates a dramatic narrative which follows the surprising turns which the text takes. So we have moments of intense drama, yet delicate recitative-like arioso which turns almost mystical. Some movements coalesce into set pieces, such as 'Here and now in Damascus' but the main feeling is a sense of fluidity of form as Dove responds to the text, interludes for the quartet providing linkages. The piece receives a powerfully direct performance from Mark Padmore and the Sacconi Quartet, with Padmore bringing a remarkable range of colour to the music, highlighting the words and the poetic power.

Jonathan Dove (born 1959) - Piano Quintet (2009) [21.14]
Jonathan Dove - Out of Time (2001) [17.58]
Jonathan Dove - In Damascus (2016) [34.04]
Mark Padmore (tenor)
Charles Owen (piano)
Sacconi Quartet
Recorded at All Saints' Church, East Finchley, 23-24 June, 14-15 July 2016
Available from Amazon.

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