Stories » Performances are superb on William Susman's 'Collision Point' as crystalline music shines / Fanfare

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Performances are superb on William Susman's 'Collision Point' as crystalline music shines / Fanfare

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Back in Fanfare 38:2, I wrote about a disc of William Susman's music entitled Scatter My Ashes. Like the current disc, similarly on the Belarca label, playing time was short, but a sense of fun and enjoyment of life was long. Susman's minimalist tendencies are fully on display again in this release, itself entitled Collision Point.

Scored for flute, alto sax, violin, cello and piano four-hands, Camille (2010) is based on the Afro-Cuban clave rhythm, with 3+2 layered against 2+3 in the first movement, "Vitality". Susman suggests the aural equivalent is that of Escher's woodcut Illustrations, where the eye can choose to concentrate on wither white fish or brown fish; here, it is the ear that opts which division of the measure to concentrate on. Booklet annotator David Sanson puts it well when he refers to Susman's music as a "labyrinth of rhythms, a perpetually moving trompe-l'oeil," a statement that seems to fit particularly well with Camille. The contrasting second panel "Tranquility," is like a slowly turning kaleidoscope, before the pulsating finale, "Triumph," emerges. The work was written for the current ensemble and is performed with the sense of rhythmic cleanliness and exactitude minimalist music requires.

The 2010 piece Clouds and Flames finds the scoring reduced to piano trio. Seven short movements are inspired by events in Colum McCann's novel Let The Great World Spin and also by the tightrope walk of Philippe Petit between the World Trade Center towers on August 7, 1974. The central theme of Clouds and Flames is remembrance and loss, nowhere more evident than in the fourth movement, "The Alphabet of Dying". The title of the next movement, "Collision Point," a restrained movement built on slow-moving piano against pizzicato strings, also forms the title of the disc as a whole. The scoring for piano trio gives the piece a brilliant sort of clarity completely different from the ensemble used or Camille; again, the performance is beyond criticism.

The two remaining pieces date back into the 1990s. Based on cyclical melodies and chord progressions, Motions of Return for flute and piano (1994) takes its title from Francis Bacon's 1627 The New Atlantis and is, like Camille, based on the idea of illusion. The agile flute part is superbly rendered by Alessandra Amoreno; Fabio Silvestro is the most fluent-fingered of pianists. Together, they negotiate the tricky asynchronous passages with great confidence. 

The disc is bookended by ensemble pieces, that for The Starry Dynamo (1994) only one pianist short of that used for Camille; the original clarinet part has been replaced here by the alto sax of Claudia Di Pietro to fit in with the line-up of Piccolo Accademia degli Specchi. And, as in Camille, it is an Afro-Cuban rhythm that forms the basis, this time especially the montuño, a repeated syncopated figure.  It is a poem by Allan Gunsburg, HOWL, that forms the inspiration for The Starry Dynamo, including the line, "angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night". This is a work that, in one continuous movement of nearly 15 minutes, goes further than any on this disc to offer a sense of immersion into Susman's world. 

Performances are superb throughout, while the recording is perfectly judged, enabling the crystalline aspect of Susman's music to shine through. Recommended.  Colin Clarke