Canadian composer Martin Arnold’s illustrious compositions over the decades are so very much his own sound. Here UK-based ensemble Apartment House perform four works in which Arnold strives to combine lyricism with formlessness in his self-described “stain ballads.” As Arnold explains on the Another Timbre label’s website, “Stains are … always stain-shaped but don’t present a form… form and content are the same thing.”
Opening track Lutra (2017) for cello and humming is given a slow and reflective performance by Apartment House founder and director, Anton Lukoszevieze. The high-pitched cello opening leads to a lower-range bowed melody, with alternating high and low pitches united by humming and delicate cello lyricism. Stain Ballad (2016), for seven-piece orchestra, also encompasses the contrasting ideas of held string notes, here versus detached piano lines and percussion throbs, as all the instruments are musically balanced and blended in Arnold’s expert “story-telling” orchestration.
Arnold’s understanding of held string capabilities makes the cello/violin duet Trousers (2017) sound like a full orchestra. A more fragmented work with minimalistic touches, quiet breaks between phrases, bowed strings, pitch slides and mid-piece dissonant lines are just a few sounds Lukoszevieze and violinist Mira Benjamin play, sparking listening interest! Great inclusion is Arnold’s earlier career quartet Slip (1999), a jig-like dance with opening bass clarinet/violin/cello uneven phrases until the accented piano chordal entry adds percussive flavours.
Arnold’s tightly interwoven “formless” lyricism, combined with these dedicated performances, create captivating colourful music.