John Palmer

Chamber Music of John Palmer

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This album culls four works from the late '90s by British composer John Palmer. The title piece is the longest (19 minutes) and the strangest composition here. Not that it goes further than the others in extended techniques, atonality, or any other postmodern avant-garde idiom. Simply, it throws together a harpsichord (Jane Chapman) and world percussion (mostly tablas and gongs, all performed by Pete Lockett). The culture clash is self-explanatory. A tonal instrument from the West encounters a percussive instrument from the East. The only point these two have in common is the attack (which can be described as percussive in both cases). Acting as mediator is a tape part, mostly made of manipulated sitar samples. The piece is intriguing and disconcerting, but not completely convincing -- both instruments remain camped in traditional roles. And the way Palmer splashes the tabla's solo sections all over the stereo spectrum can be downright dizzying, especially when listened to with headphones. "Hinayana," for solo oboe (Piet Van Bockstal), is rather unremarkable. On the other hand, "Epitaph," for cello and tape, is a brilliant piece. Its rich emotional range and aggressive charge come from the composer's feelings over the suicide of a friend. The electro-acoustic part derives from female voice, train, and cello sounds. Cellist Neil Heyde puts a lot of soul in his performance, making the piece stand out as the highlight of this CD. The closer, "Between," offers an interesting study of the similarities between harpsichord and violin, especially when both are played pizzicato.

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