Graham Fitkin: Circuit

Noriko Ogawa / Kathryn Stott / Naoto Otomo / Tokyo Symphony Orchestra

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Graham Fitkin: Circuit Review

by Uncle Dave Lewis

One of the most prominent latter-day British minimalists, Graham Fitkin enjoys both renown in Europe and a kind of enfant terrible status in his native England, although this is gradually wearing off. Nevertheless, to know Fitkin is not necessarily to love him; blogger/composer Alex Christaki has written that Fitkin's Mesh is "quite typical of a 'contemporary' style, meaning that its capturing texture feels to well adapted to today's modern music. I also feel that once you have heard it a second hearing is unnecessary." Another English critic once commented that "if I hear Fitkin's Cud one more time I'm afraid I'm going to lose my mind." While some voices in this controversy are firmly in Fitkin's corner, those who are not suggest that his music hammers home the musically mundane, achieving a kind of hip obsequiousness. Indeed, those so convinced are unlikely to have their minds changed by Circuit, the four-hand piano concerto that is the leadoff work on BIS' Graham Fitkin: Circuit, featuring esteemed solo pianists Noriko Ogawa and Kathryn Stott working as a team with, in the main work, the Tokyo Symphony under the direction of Naoto Otomo; the remainder of the disc is made up of solo and duo pieces from Fitkin's standing catalog. Indeed, Stott and Ogawa plow their way through the 20 breathless minutes of the main work in a performance probably requiring more in the way of sheer stamina than virtuosity, but some of the other, smaller pieces included here are definitely worth investigating.

In her solo spotlights, Noriko Ogawa is her usual, irreproachable self; T1 is enjoyable in a Satiëan, distant way and Carnal is a loud, declamatory piece that Ogawa delivers with a sense of strength, projection, and great regularity. Despite the title, Relent, played by Stott, is pretty relentless in its forward progression and pursuit of ostinati; however, the four-hand White is pleasantly reminiscent of 1940s neo-classicism. Furniture and T2 both have some pretty interesting ideas, and indeed, there are interesting moments in all of these pieces. Among English minimalists, Fitkin represents a different school of thought from the established norm; unlike Nyman, Bryars, or Eno, he was not nurtured through contact with the British high priest of experimental music Cornelius Cardew, but -- like his contemporary Steve Martland -- with Dutch composer Louis Andriessen. While he might not always subscribe to Andriessen's dictum that "one must make each successive measure different from the next," he certainly has as much right -- despite his critics -- to record his music as anyone else, and Fitkin has gathered a fairly devoted constituency of listeners in the U.K. This BIS super audio CD with Ogawa and Stott is an A-plus quality recording of Fitkin's music, a deluxe kind of platform that relatively few contemporary composers can expect to see in their lifetimes, and certainly will do -- whether one is crazy about Fitkin or not so -- to demonstrate his relative virtues and deficiencies in the most immediate and definitive fashion.

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