In Gareth Malone’s Gareth Malone’s Guide To Classical Music (William Collins, 2011), Gareth Malone considers New Complexity composition. Composers minded to write complex composition, are, apparently, just too obsessed with music, and the British composer, James Erber, now in his mid-60’s, turns out to be one of the unlucky obsessed, obsessed to the point where he can’t help but concoct musical structures that unashamedly require you ally your ears with an analytical brain.
His solo flute triptych, Traces, was 15 years in the making – he completed it in 2006 – and is about balletic, long melodic ribbons that are stated and rewritten, and re-written, until the music slams into itself coming back the other way and you lose trace of what exactly you’re hearing, the original material or one of the rewrites. Unwrap Erber’s compressed, hour-long structure and my hunch is that therein you might uncover at least three hours’ worth of basic material – a healthier state of affairs, one feels, that where the mainstream detritus of so much current music of whatever stylistic persuasion has ended up; marketable routines where duration feels directly out of proportion to meaningful, exploratory content.
But I digress: Matteo Cesari’s performance of Erber’s essay in remembering and re-forgetting moves just marginally faster than our ability to keep up. Forward motion is implied anyway in Erber’s notation – extracts reproduced in the CD booklet show bars stuffed with more notes that is normally considered decent – and Cesari’s tempi certainly aren’t sluggish nor crazily fast. Tempi are just slightly hotter than room temperature, and you genuinely wish that you could step inside Erber’s patterns to admire his structural vistas and harmonic architecture at the same time as you’re exhilarated – totally – by the intensity of the ride.
These textures and gestures could do with more variation and differentiation? Perhaps, But, like in the first section where low-register downward spiraling glissandos kick away from the flute’s relentless march forwards, such breaks in the continuity really count for something and make you think.