Wednesday 24 November 2021

From complex juggling patterns to cartoon sound-tracks to Melville's Moby Dick; the inspirations behind Ryan Latimer's vividly coloured and richly energised music are many and varied

Ryan Latimer Antiarke; RAM Manson Ensemble, BBC Concert Orchestra, Crouch End Festival Chorus, Britten Sinfonia, London Sinfonietta, Psappha, Loki Ensemble, BBC Symphony Orchestra; NMC Recordings

Ryan Latimer Antiarke; RAM Manson Ensemble, BBC Concert Orchestra, Crouch End Festival Chorus, Britten Sinfonia, London Sinfonietta, Psappha, Loki Ensemble, BBC Symphony Orchestra; NMC Recordings

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 23 November 2021 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Playful, complex, brightly characterful with a vivid sense of rhythm, this new portrait disc from NMC paints a vibrant picture of Ryan Latimer's music

Antiarke in NMC Recordings' Debut Discs series is a portrait disc of the young British composer Ryan Latimer, featuring seven works performed by Royal Academy of Music Manson Ensemble and Oliver KnussenBBC Concert Orchestra, Crouch End Festival Chorus and David TempleBritten SinfoniaLondon Sinfonietta and Garry WalkerPsappha; Loki Ensemble, mezzo-soprano Rosie Middleton and Daniele RosinaBBC Symphony Orchestra and Pierre-André Valade.

Latimer's approach to music is highlighted by his comment, "Playfulness invites an openness to all that surrounds oneself, allowing for the possibility to not only delight in new discoveries, but to also ask questions of those things one so readily takes for granted". 

The opening work on the disc, Mills Mess epitomises this playfulness and lively character, combined with a bright complexity. This is music which is fun yet complicated, weaving in a variety of influences in a tapestry which is rich, yet approachable. Commissioned by the Royal Academy of Music, Mills Mess, for large ensemble was first performed in January 2015 by the Manson Ensemble, the RAM’s contemporary music student ensemble, conducted by Oliver Knussen. The work takes its title from a popular juggling pattern, developed by Steve Mills in the 1970s, and noted for its visual discontinuity and practical complexity. Latimer is an amateur juggler himself, and he has created a work that is crowd-pleasing but tricksy.

Frigates & Folly, for orchestra and chorus was commissioned by Crouch End Festival Chorus, who first performed it with the BBC Concert Orchestra at the Barbican Hall, London in October 2018. The text is Latimer's own extraction of passages from Herman Melville's Moby Dick, concentrating on the tragically optimistic life of the ship’s pipe-smoking Second Mate. The music combines the brightly vivacious orchestral writing from Mills Mess underpinning more direct choral passages. Throughout both these first two works, the rhythmical influence of Stravinsky seems paramount, Latimer's bright and vivid colours are underpinned by striking rhythmic structures which evoke Stravinsky's neo-classical period. 

Ryan Latimer: Frigates & Folly (premiere) - Crouch End Festival Chorus, BBC Concert Orchestra, David Temple at the Barbican
Ryan Latimer: Frigates & Folly (premiere) - Crouch End Festival Chorus, BBC Concert Orchestra, David Temple at the Barbican

was premiered by the Britten Sinfonia in 2013. It is written on a smaller scale than the two previous pieces, for oboe, harp, two violins, viola and cello and in it Latimer takes a light-hearted deconstruction of various earlier influences included Mozart's Oboe Quartet. In three movements, the first Scherzo seems to pair classical influences with a very modern sense of energy, creating a distinctive atmosphere. The second movement, Fantasia, is notable for the poly-rhythmic complexity Latimer achieves with his small forces. The final Passacaglia, the largest movement of the three, starts off in a rather haunted, other-worldly atmosphere, seemingly a world away from the other music but still with Latimer's feel for complex textures.

Moby Dick might seem to return us to the world Melville's novel, but the work was written in 2014 for the London Sinfonietta and so precedes Frigates & Folly. Moby Dick has no text, instead Latimer creates a soundscape inspired by elements of the novel, notably its sheer variety. The music has the crisply edgily rhythmic pointillism that informs other pieces on the disc, though sometimes Latimer writes in a sparer way. And throughout the piece, it is the vivid juxtapositions of textures, rhythms and energies that count.

Speaking of Letters and Dancing is a three movement work for mezzo-soprano and small ensemble dating from 2018, and here performed by Loki Ensemble with mezzo-soprano Rosie Middleton and conductor Daniele Rosina, who premiered the work in 2018. There are three letters, two by Polish poet and playwright, Maria Pawlikowska-Jasnorzewska and one by Japanese poet Kobayashi Issa. Latimer rather treats the voice instrumentally, another line around which the instruments create evocative rhythmic patterns, though the third song has a real change of mood, becoming quietly evocative and atmospheric.

Slink & Stride was written in 2019 for piano and percussion as part of Psappha's Composing for... programme, and was written for pianist Ben Powell and percussionist Tim Williams who premiered it in 2021 at Hallé St Peter’s, Manchester. The piece is based around short motifs which form the games which piano and percussion play, as with other Latimer pieces on the disc there are plenty of his sudden changes of timbre, texture and rhythm, along with a sense of bright, forward movement.

The final work in the disc, Antiarke, dates from 2016 and is an homage to the sort of music that formed Latimer's earliest experience of hearing orchestral music - cartoon sound-tracks. And one can understand his style a lot more when one thinks about the influence of this type of disruptive, frenetic, irreverent, and discontinuous music. Antiarkie was written as part of the composer’s year-long collaborative residency with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, who premiered the piece with conductor Pierre-André Valade at Maida Vale Studios in March 2016. It is full of vivid incident and colour, fast-paced and constantly changing with a kaleidoscopic palate of colour allied to those crisp rhythms that have featured in other pieces.

The music on this disc is vividly coloured and constantly changing, the composer managing to create a sense of playfulness yet also writing music that is complex and full of ideas. The often brightly upfront atmosphere is complemented by a richness which repays listening.  It comes as no surprise to find that Latimer has worked a lot with dance-groups and this is music which seems to cry out to be moved to. The performances are all excellent, especially notable as so many seem to have been made live, and it is good so have so many works in performances by the groups for whom they were written.

Latimer's scores are available from Composers Edition, including several works on the disc.

Ryan Latimer (born 1990) - Mills Mess (2015)
    Royal Academy of Music Manson Ensemble, Oliver Knussen conductor
Ryan Latimer - Frigates & Folly (2018)
    BBC Concert Orchestra, Crouch End Festival Chorus, David Temple conductor
Ryan Latimer - Divertimento (2013)
    Britten Sinfonia
Ryan Latimer - Moby Dick (2014)
    London Sinfonietta, Garry Walker conductor
Ryan Latimer - Speaking of Letters and Dancing (2018)
    Loki Ensemble, Rosie Middleton mezzo soprano, Daniele Rosina conductor
Ryan Latimer - Slink & Stride (2019)
Ryan Latimer - Antiarkie (2016)
    BBC Symphony Orchestra and Pierre-André Valade.
Mills Mess was a live-concert recording at Royal Academy of Music in 2015
Frigates & Folly recorded at the Barbican in 2018 by the BBC
Divertimento recorded at West Road Concert Hall in 2013 by the BBC
Moby Dick recorded at the University of Surrey in 2014
Speaking of Letters recorded at University of Birmingham in May 2021
Sling & Stride recorded at Halle St Peter's in May 2021
Antiarke recorded at the Barbican in 2016 by the BBC

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