This, the second Champs Hill CD of chamber music by Cheryl Frances-Hoad (b.1980), a much-performed British composer in all genres, features nine works dating from 1998 to 2017, none longer than 14 minutes. Short – but not sweet!
This music, although seemingly easy to follow, is anything but easy listening. Eschewing prettiness and warmth, these pieces’ beauties are austere and angst-ridden. Within predominantly slow tempi, strong accents mark the ways forward, but the clearly defined instrumental lines wander uncertainly amid unclear, undefined tonal centres.
The disquiet thus produced reflects Frances-Hoad’s imagery in describing her compositions: “so much of the Earth is being polluted, fracked and deforested” (the CD’s title piece, The Whole Earth Dances, for piano quintet including a double bass, as in Schubert’s Trout); “a dystopian future in which the technology we have come to rely upon kills us” (Game On for piano and electronics); “I incorporated the Dies Irae plainchant – Day of Wrath – as a reminder of the inevitable” (The Prophecy for cello and piano); “a women who kills her two children to spite her husband” (Medea for solo flute); “[Dante’s] description of sinners submerged neck-deep in rivers of boiling blood” (My Day in Hell for string quartet).
Disturbing, uncomfortable, but always holding my attention, these works often reminded me of the sparse, haunted atmosphere of Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time. If you’re in the mood for feeling moody, you’ll enjoy this CD, as I did.