Graham Reid | | 4 min read
It goes like this: “We're going to start a record label which will be at the high end of production values. The recordings will be presented in full colour hardcover CD sleeves with photos and liner notes. None of this cheap jewel case nonsense.
Comedy, tragedy or farce?
Yet for almost 30 years and on more than 100 albums, Rattle out of Auckland has been doing exactly that. Often selling ridiculously small numbers of their quality albums, sometimes hitting a blockbuster (Michael Houstoun's complete Beethoven piano sonatas) and yet always just carrying on.
And carrying on picking up awards in the classical and jazz categories at the annual music awards, sometimes being the only label represented in their categories.
At some point label boss Steve Garden must have heard Van Morrison and thought the Irishman was speaking to him: “It's too late to stop now . . .”
Elsewhere has always been interested in Rattle's output – although we beg off comment on some of the mainstream classical catalogue – and in recent times, because the label has been so productive (10 albums this year, a whopping 18 last year), we have been obliged to pull a few together in an overview.
We have called these columns Provocations of Rattles and now we offer these recent releases.
Klara Kollektiv: Nara
In the past decade or so, Rattle has released a number of albums by international artists, most of whom have a New Zealand connection through touring here or for playing works by local composers.
Sweden's Klara Kollektiv touch all those points: this debut for Rattle was recorded at the Dowse Art Museum in Lower Hutt during their 2018 Chamber Music New Zealand tour when they played works by Douglas Lilburn and Anthony Ritchie.
Clarinet player Anna McGregor is a New Zealander now based in Sweden and violinist Manu Berkeljon was born on the West Coast and has played with the NZSO, NZTrio and the Swedish Chamber Orchestra among others.
Pianist Taru Kurki was born in Finland and is the head of the Falun Music Conservatory in Sweden.
Heavy hitters all.
Ritchie's lovely Violin Sonata No 3 here was written for Berkeljon and opens with an elegantly dramatic Dream sequence, moves through the Lament which refers to European folk traditions and a yearning violin passage then the self-explanatory Dance.
Something in solo clarinet seems to suggest pastoral or bucolic scenes, as is the case in Ritchie's three-part piece for McGregor which is by turns quirky, flighty, whimsical and playful. The final section is entitled Play.
Elsewhere there is an intense piece for the trio by Ritchie best explained in the liner notes as a child in Viking era imagining the life of battles, voyaging and strife to come.
The final piece here is entrancing: McGregor sings a medieval lyric over a violin drone as she warns of avoiding the temptations of an enjoyable life: “thi loue on worldes blis for ful of bitternes hit is”.
So let that be a lesson to you.
Dadson, Winstanley, Nunn: 961
Work by the sonic artist Phil Dadson – here in an hour-long improvisation on invented instruments with Paul Winstanley (on prepared electric bass) and Tom Nunn – is exactly the kind of recording no one else would be interested in releasing, let alone package up so helpfully with liner notes, photos and explanations of the instruments.
As with many such projects – we think of Dadson's From Scratch particularly – this is music which is best enjoyed seeing being created in situ rather than just heard.
You can see a film of this project by the trio here
Andrew Beer, Sarah Watson: 11 Frames
Virtuoso violinist and composer Beer and pianist Watkins (late of the acclaimed NZTrio) – encouraged by the success of the piece they commissioned from Auckland composer Leonie Holmes which was a finalist in the SOUNZ Contemporary Award – embarked on this project of duets which here includes commissioned work from New Zealanders Anthony Ritchie, Josiah Carr, Reuben Jelleyman, Juliet Kiri Palmer and Alex Taylor
There are also non-commissioned pieces by Gillan Whitehead (Torua from 2011), Gareth Farr (Unforeseen Evolutions of three years ago reconfigured for the duo), Philip Brownlee (again an earlier piece, Water Sketch With Tui) and Anthony Watson's Concert Piece from 1941.
Plus a 2008 composition Questioning The Mountains by Chinese composer Gao Ping.
That very diversity of composers – this opens with Holmes' justifiably acclaimed 10 minute Dance of the Wintersmith inspired, somewhat improbably, by Terry Pratchett novel – is in fact the strength of this collection.
From Whitehead's dramatic and thoughtful piece being written when the major quake hit Christchurch through the penumbral world of Carr's Dance and the lachrymose violin on the Jewish folk sound of Transylvania in Ritchie's Rhapsody to the impressionistic Water Sketch With Tui, this is a fascinating journey where the dialogue between, or solo passages for, piano and violin are fully explored.
These three typically diverse Rattle albums can be heard and bought from the Rattle website here.