Reviews

GMCD 7397 – Dances and Laments by Peter Fribbins

Turner Ensemble: Ania Safonova (violin), Andriy Vivtovych (viola), Naomi Williams (cello), Tony Hougham (double bass), Nick Rodwell (clarinet), Andrea de Flammineis (bassoon), Roger Montgomery (horn) – Philippe Graffin (violin) & Henri Demarquette (cello) – Pál Banda (cello) & Mine Dogantan-Dack (piano) – Nancy Ruffer (flute) & Helen Crayford (piano) – Rosamunde Piano Trio: Martino Tirimo (piano), Ben Sayevich (violin), Daniel Veis (cello) – Michael Frith (organ)

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American Record Guide – May/June 2014

This is the third album of music by British composer Peter Fribbins (b 1969) that Guild has released but the first one I’ve heard. In fact, it’s the first I’ve heard Fribbins’s music. Two works I found really striking; but, I hasten to add, the excellent performances also helped. (Each work has different players recorded in different locations from 2001 to 2013.)
The Zong Affair (2011) refers to an incident in 1781 when the dead and dying aboard the slave ship Zong were thrown overboard. Scored for violin, viola, cello, string bass, clarinet, bassoon, and French horn (as in Beethoven’s Septet), this work is seven minutes of compelling rhythms and motives. The form is not sonata-allegro but more like a movement from a Sibelius symphony that evolves in a unique but integral way. The Turner Ensemble performs with deep expression and nuance, and the engineers give them a warm, resonant, natural stereo spread. Here is a tale that is well told in every way.
The 12-minute Dances and Laments (2010) contains five contrasting but linked movements in traditional British mode. In fact, the very opening notes are straight out of the opening cello line from Vaughan Williams’s Fantasia on Christmas Carols where a baritone repeats the cello line, singing, “This is the truth sent from above.” The hand-in-glove playing of Philippe Graffin and Henri Demarquette is perfectly captured by the engineers, placing them left and right yet uniting them on one natural sound stage. The writing for violin and cello is utterly enchanting not because it contains clever techniques but because it mixes standard techniques (pizzicato, parallel legato lines, contrasting styles) in functionally supportive and esthetically beautiful ways that I simply haven’t encountered before in other traditional works. I must admit, though, that the final ‘Dance in Three’ seemed very long because Fribbin’s fantasia tune just doesn’t have enough material to support its three minutes.
That Which Echoes in Eternity (a line from Dante’s Inferno—1990, revised 2010) is a lament on a dead person waiting for the resurrection. Once again Fribbins immediately grounds his music by means of tunefulness, cadence, and mood. But I quickly lost interest because the playing of cellist Pal Banda and pianist Mine Dogantan-Dack sounds studied rather than passionate, and the engineers simply don’t project them out of the speakers, making it impossible for me to comment on whether the work itself stands up to its 12-minute length.
If Fribbins intended to capture the madness, delicacy, passion, and tender warmth of romanticism (all his words) in his 14-minute Porphyria’s Lover (1994), the title of a poem by Robert Browning, it sounds like he missed the boat in the hands of monotone flutist Nancy Ruffer and pianist Helen Crayford. The first movement lacks forward motion; II comes across as an aimless caprice; and the finale lacks all poetry and soul.
Softly in the Dark (title of a DH Lawrence poem) has the nostalgia of Barber’s Knoxville 1915. It’s easy to grasp the sad rocking pattern in this nine-minute 2007 work, but it wears out its welcome after three minutes because the Rosamunde Trio’s violinist doesn’t sustain his long soaring lines, especially in a duo with the cellist. After five minutes this performance lacks any forward motion.
In the nine-minute Chorale Prelude and Fugue on Cromer (2011) Michael Frith certainly shows off the delicate colors of the organ at Essex’s Brentwood Cathedral, but I had trouble feeling any bass. Here Fribbins contrasts various meters, basically twos against threes, and Frith draws them out nicely along with a definite forward progression in both movements. But in the prelude I couldn’t make out ‘Cromer’, the tune it’s based on, and in the Fugue I waited in vain for a climax (there is one, but it didn’t feel like it). Whom to fault? Fribbins, Frith, or engineers who perhaps recorded the organ too distant?
FRENCH

Fanfare Magazine – May/June 2014

Guild continues its championing of Peter Fribbins’s music with this collection of chamber works, all written in the last 20 years, and as before showcasing the vibrant, colorful but essentially tonal writing of this British-born composer. Although he continues a chartable line from Britten and Tippett, to my ears there are also continental influences such as Janáček and traces of the early 20th-century French school that give his high-minded, often literary influenced works an intriguing non-British flavor.
The collection starts abruptly with The Zong Affair, the sharp, biting folk elements giving this single-movement septet a darkly sardonic air, in keeping with its grim subject matter, the mass killings on board a British slave ship in 1781. Cruel yet profound, its final lament strikes a note of darkness absent elsewhere in Fribbins’s brightly colored works. The title work, Dances and Laments for violin and cello, is a more conventional five-movement suite, jagged and playful, although it only really gets into its stride in the final section, “Dance in Three.” Beautifully played by Philippe Graffin (a high profile name here) and Henri Demarquette, it is a drily scored, edgy work that contrasts with the plusher items that follow, such as the piano and cello miniature … that which echoes in eternity. An utter charmer, this is very Satie-esque in its minimalism and structure, but growing ever more rhapsodic with the cello sneaking in gradually over the submerged tread of the piano writing. A fascinating, conventionally beautiful piece, it is the finest and most accessible work here, although there’s much to enjoy elsewhere, with the skittish Porphyria’s Lover, whose opening dissonance quickly dissolves to quicksilver wit and energy. Exquisite too is the single movement piano trio Softly in the dusk, very French-tinged with its chromaticism and repeated motifs. After its dying droplets of sound, it is a shock to end with the organ, but Fribbin’s Chorale Prelude and Fugue on Cromer charts a similarly contained journey, albeit tonally playful. Written especially for the organist Michael Frith, it is a contemplative if somber way to close the proceedings.
The playing throughout is vibrant and committed, in keeping with the music itself. Guild’s presentation is excellent, with good notes and bios in English and German. The sound is immaculate too, allowing these brightly written scores to shine. As in my previous encounter with Fribbins’s lyrical yet elusive writing, there is an attractive French influence to his writing that recalls Ravel’s chamber style. I would never argue that Fribbins has a unique voice, but his confidence, color, and unashamed belief in lyricism are just as apparent as before. Highly enjoyable.
Barnaby Rayfield

The Organ – March 2014

This work by Peter Fribbins, dating from 2011 and revised in 2013, is dedicated to Michael Frith who has recorded it, together with other music by the composer on Guild GMCD 7397. It is a largely contemplative study on the old hymn-tune, fluent and almost entirely without dramatic contrast, a work that draws the listener into its evolving labrynthine world, more fully explored in the fugue.
Overall, the piece may be considered to be an exploration of the implications behind a large-scale perfect cadence, the Prelude ending in F major and the Fugue in C, but overall this is a composition which does not reveal its secrets immediately, being one that is surely worth close study – to the point where one hopes that Fribbins will consider the writing of a larger-scaled organ work in the near future.
This Prelude and Fugue betokens a composer who thinks contrapuntally and naturally within the orbit of the organ-loft. It is very well presented by this excellent publishing house, and to those interested in exploring new and worthwhile music for the organ it is highly recommended.
Robert Matthew Walker

The Arts Desk – February 2014

Peter Fribbins’ The Zong Affair will probably have most listeners scratching heads at the title before they’ve pressed the play button. Could this opus be based on a little-known Frederick Forsyth novel, or an early Len Deighton spy thriller? Er, no. The sleeve notes and a spot of Googling reveal that this gravely eloquent piece is a septet inspired by Turner’s 1840 painting The Slave Ship – itself a grisly depiction of the legal massacre of 142 slaves by the crew of a British slave ship in 1781. Fribbins’s brooding, pungent music can seem too frenetic in places, though brilliantly scored. The most affecting sections are the brief moments of frozen stillness near the centre, and the downbeat coda, its irregular bass thumps suggesting a faltering heartbeat. Like many contemporary British composers, Fribbins has a day job as an academic. And the fact that you probably won’t have heard of him is a matter for regret, as the music collected on this anthology is consistently engaging. The five movements of the violin and cello duet Dances & Laments seem to allude to the English pastoral tradition but have their own flavour. There’s a beguiling, Dante-inspired piece for cello and piano, at its best in the slower outer sections. Fribbins’s angular melodies are magnificent, and only their unpredictability prevents one from attempting to sing along.
Some of the same romanticism is at play in the piano trio Softly, in the dusk, suggested by a D H Lawrence poem. There’s an impressive moment four minutes in, when the violinist soars above cello triplets. In lesser hands this could resemble corny pastiche, but here it sounds terrific. Porphyria’s Lover was inspired by a Browning dramatic monologue, idiomatically scored for flute and piano. Performances throughout, drawn from a variety of performers and locations, are excellent. Enjoy this disc in one sitting, and wallow in the final organ piece, a magisterial slow fugue closing with a sonorous, satisfying cadence.
Graham Rickson