David Braid Chamber and Instrumental Music
Grace Davidson, Tippett Quartet, Erato Trio, Sergei Podobedov, Yuri Kalnits, Peter Cigleris, Rossitza Stoycheva, Mikako Hori, Jelena Laković
Toccata Classics TOCC 0149
Yet another fascinating discovery from Toccata Classics, the chamber music of David Braid. Originally from North Wales (b. 1970), but now based in London, Braid has pursued composition studies at the Royal College of Music and in Krakow. He has taken a cautious approach to the wider dissemination of his music, withdrawing several early works (even one that had previously been shortlisted by the SPNM), so it seems reasonable to assume that a great deal of thought and planning has gone into this debut CD, a recital of chamber works dating from 2006 to 2011.
Braid cites all sorts of influences and interests in his laudably comprehensive liner note (another Toccata trademark – read it here), but his style is unified and distinctive. Harmonic invention is his strongest suit, and the harmonic language in each of these works is engaging and adventurous, revealing a deep sensitivity to colour and texture. Typically, a work will be based on a three or four note idea, a two note melodic idea, say, over a sustained pedal. Tonal implications are deftly sidestepped, and even pitch centres seem transient and of little relevance to the music’s progression and structure. Despite the wide range of composers listed as influences, none of the composers of the Second Viennese School gets a namecheck. That’s surprising, because much of this music is reminiscent of Schoenberg at his least aggressive, or Berg at his most lyrical. But perhaps those sounds are inherited through the Messiaen and Ligeti that Braid does cite, or even his teachers in Poland.
The one aspect of this music that does seem to lack invention is rhythm. Often, sections, movements or even whole works will be based on a single, continuous pulse, not as a minimalist contrivance, but more as a mere vehicle for the unfolding pitch content. In fact, the rhythmic language here is more inventive and varied than it first seems, but that invention pales through comparison with the much more elaborate and sophisticated treatment of harmony and texture.
The recital begins with a Neruda setting for soprano and string quartet. Steve Reich, we are told, has commented favourably on the interaction of singer and players in this work, and I’m happy to endorse his views. Brittle, non-vibrato tones from the strings prepare the way for the singer, whose similarly elegant and uncontrived timbre is the perfect vehicle for Neruda’s economical words.
The remaining works on the disc are all instrumental, and most have a reflective tone and expansive atmosphere. The one exception is the first of the Three Pieces for Solo Piano, entitled “Lyrical Toccata”. Here we are briefly transported to the world of Ligeti’s Etudes, or even Nancarrow’s Studies, with fast, scalar passages based on motifs of irregular length. The movement is only just over a minute, and more of this this sort of music would be most welcome.
Not that there is anything wrong with the more reflective sounds that follow. Szymanowski is another composer whose name is notable by its absence from the liner essay, but the Invention for Violin and Piano, is very much of his world. Sonata for Quartet is scored for clarinet and piano trio, a combination that makes a lot of musical sense, especially when used as Braid does, with each player treated soloistically in his always very linear and focussed textures. Music for Dancers is a short work for piano trio, an exercise in hypothetical choreography. A little more rhythmic invention might help to make this music sound more danceable, but it certainly has the sense of drama needed for the stage. The programme ends, appropriately, with Postlude for solo piano. This music is Braid at his most reflective and Impressionistic, and the colours he draws from the piano through its simple sequence of chords are elegant indeed.
The composer’s cause benefits substantially from the commitment and skill of the performers heard here. Pianist Sergei Podobedov and violinist Yuri Kalnits were apparently contacts the composer made while studying at RCM, and their advocacy has instigated many of the present works. The Tippett Quartet is already well-known for its series of fine recordings on Naxos, and its performance here is just as impressive. The Erato Trio is Kalnits’ ensemble, and they too prove to be skilled and committed proponents of this music, as do the various pianists who appear variously solo or in chamber combinations.
In the liner essay, Braid explains that he has been going through a chamber music phase in recent years, and this CD showcases the results. But there are clearly many other facets to this composer’s art, which it would be very interesting to hear in the future. He’s written orchestral works, and has also studied conducting, always a useful skill for orchestral composers. He also plays the guitar, an instrument far too rarely heard in contemporary classical music. His writing for the voice, as briefly demonstrated here, is clearly highly sensitive and idiomatic. Any or all of these would be most welcome inclusions on Toccata’s next David Braid release.