Laurence Crane – 6 Trios, 2 Solos and 1 Quintet
Review Nieuwe Noten, 26 July 2017 by Ben Taffijn
Two recent CD’s with work by the English composer Laurence Crane, born in 1961 in Oxford, give a good overview of the man and his work. The CD by the Ives Ensemble, with the prosaic title “6 Trios, 2 Solos and 1 Quintet, shows us the Crane of the second half of the 1980’s and now, while the work on the album by the Norwegian Asamisimasa originates from the period around the turn of the century.
The six trios are all from the second half of the 1980’s, and were written for different combinations. What they have in common is their length, Crane was a wholesaler in relatively short pieces, and their thrilling character. In these, the piano (played here by John Snijders, founder and leader of the Ives Ensemble) plays a dominant role with its repeating patterns. “Trio for Ros and Peter”, with its length of over 4 minutes one of the longer pieces, is a good example. The repeating piano attacks, the melody played by the violin and cello, what Crane does is really all very simple, but very effective. In a programme for a concert in Oslo in April 2013 he says about his way of composing: “I use simple and basic musical objects; common chords and intervals, arpeggios, drones, cadences, fragments of scales and melodies. The materials may seem familiar – perhaps even rather ordinary – but my aim is to find a fresh beauty in these objects by placing them in new structural and formal contexts… (quoted from a Wikipedia article). In “Hugo Pine” and “Jurgen Hip” Crane reinforces this process by working with piano 3-hands, supported by violin and cello respectively. Like I said, the pieces are short, but this is at the same time their strength. In those few minutes Crane tells his story, more in not necessary. Listen here to “Hugo Pine”, from the album released on the label Junk Ibu.
The Ives Ensemble CD also contains the Piano Quintet from 2011 and two pieces for piano solo from 2014 and 2016. What is striking about the contemporary works by Crane is that they contain more variation than the pieces from the 1980’s. Crane himself says about this in the CD booklet: “In the miniatures from the 1980s the tonalities are straightforward, whereas in the ‘Piano Quintet’ and the two solo piano works amalgamations of different harmonies exist.” This notwithstanding, these piece too contain the compelling, thrilling character that is so typical for Crane’s work.
In the two pieces for solo piano, “Len Valley Us” from 2014 and “Klavierstücke opus 84 or 85 ‘Keith Miller Project’” from 2016, Crane travels a more subtle route than in the quintet. The various movements of both pieces are miniatures in which the composer elaborates on a motive, laced together as beads on a necklace.
The Norwegian-based Asamisimasa concentrates in “Sound of Horse”, released on Hubro, on Crane’s work from around the turn of the century, and therefore fills the gap that the Ives Ensemble created. The oldest piece is “Riis” from 1996, originally written for Apartment House, one of the ensembles next to the Ives Ensemble, Asamisimasa and a few others with which Crane has a working relationship. In the piece the piano has been replaced by an electric organ, causing a long drone, on which the clarinet and cello vary. A stirring piece that, because of the instrumentation, and specifically the use of the organ, shines a different light on Crane’s work. The comparison with the contemporary electronica scene is inescapable. “Events”, written one year later, also fits the moniker ‘experimental’ perfectly. In the first movement a soprano reads names of famous people who had their birthday on 7 February 1997, including their means of living. In the second and third movement we get respectively the exchange rate of the British pound and the weather in various places in England at noon, for the same date. This is accompanied atmospherically by three clarinets and a vibraphone.
Also special is “John White in Berlin”, in which Crane creates an ambient-like atmosphere, where he is very clearly indebted to Brian Eno. At the same time we also encounter the compelling sound of the piano. Asamisimasa premiered this piece in the Ultima Festival in Oslo in 2008. The most recent piece on this album, the title piece “Sound of Horse”, dates from 2009 and was written by Crane especially for the ensemble. Contrary to many of Crane’s pieces, the leading instrument here is not the piano, but the guitar. Crane dedicated the piece to rock guitarist Mick Johnson who, as Crane states “made his guitar sound like a horse’s neigh”. This piece too sounds remarkably discrete and subtle, except for the fourth movement, which got the title ‘Loud and Rough’.