A dangerous journey through a magical forest
Manchester Collective were last heard playing in public on 14 March (see review here) the final date of their Cries and Whispers tour. It may be a little while before we are able to enjoy their electrifying and fiercely intimate live performances in person again. In the meantime they are about to release a new EP, Recreation. This is the first of a series of recordings on the Bedroom Community, the Icelandic record label/collective formed in 2006 described by Drowned in Sound as ‘the best record label in the whole of Iceland and maybe even the entire world’.
The title ‘Recreation’ presumably has a double meaning here – the EP creates pleasure in a recreational sense, but also recreates the music of Bach and Vivaldi in a contemporary context.
The Collective describe listening to the EP as like ‘picking up something warm, soft and familiar, and pricking your finger’. So the familiar warmth of Vivaldi’s ‘Summer’ from the Four Seasons’ is savagely punctured by Bartókian night music from György Ligeti’s first string quartet Métamorphoses nocturnes. The Collective’s music director, Rakhi Singh, describes the experience as ‘like being in a forest, where light and shade alternate…full of life but also dark and mysterious’. It’s an apt description; the EP is a dangerous journey through a magical forest.
The Prologue begins with a burst of electronic noise which very soon metamorphoses into a dreamlike rendition, heavily drenched in reverberation, of Bach’s chorale Du großer Schmerzensmann BWV 300 which describes the agony of Christ on the cross. The voices come into focus, as if the dream is turning into reality, and the strings of the Collective appear out of the mist, playing a gently-falling motif written by Paul Clark. The music gathers energy and pace and we are thrown into the icy landscape of Vivaldi’s Winter from his Four Seasons. As Rakhi Singh told Valgeir Sigurðsson in a recent interview, ‘Baroque music can be so vivid and electrifying, so colourful’, and the playing of the Collective exemplifies this – you can just imagine the absorbed concentration of the players as they watch each intently as they play.
The bitter cold of Winter ends and The First Day of Summer takes us to an excerpt from Vivaldi’s Summer from the Four Seasons. The drowsiness of long summer days is beautifully expressed by the languid playing of the Collective, which suddenly explodes into bright, vivid and sparkling sunlight, with virtuosic solo playing from Rakhi Singh.
The scurrying strings of the Vivaldi are brutally mirrored in the excerpts from Ligeti’s first String Quartet, in Métamorphoses Nocturnes – First and Second Vignettes. This is where the Collective excels, finding links between musical genres and styles that are apparently unrelated, bringing new light and meaning to each. From the Baroque elegance of Vivaldi we are thrown into the nightmarish world of the ‘night music’ used by Béla Bartók in many of his pieces, particularly his String Quartets and orchestral pieces such as Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta. But in this recording Ligeti and Vivaldi feed off one another, so that Vivaldi gains some of the urgent modernity of Ligeti, and in return Ligeti gains some of the Baroque grace of Vivaldi.
The two Ligeti Vignettes are linked by a short, skilfully-written Interlude written by Paul Clark.
Finally, in the Last Day of Summer we are back with Vivaldi’s Summer, with a close-miced and raw in production, always living on the edge, making regular listeners long for the intimacy of live performances at the White Hotel in Salford where the audience is so close to the performers that the can read their music over their shoulders.
Hopefully this EP will be the beginning of a long a fruitful relationship between Manchester Collective and the Bedroom Community. It is certainly a thrilling start, that fully captures the visceral excitement of the Collective’s live performances.
- First Day of Summer
- Métamorphoses Nocturnes – First Vignette
- Métamorphoses Nocturnes – Second Vignette
- Last Day of Summer
Brendan Williams – Production, Recording/Mix Engineer
Adam Szabo – Producer
Doug Hemingway – Assistant Recording Engineer
Valgeir Sigurðsson – Mastering
Helenskià Collett – Album Artwork
Rakhi Singh – Solo Violin/Music Director
Caroline Pether – Violin
Will Newell – Violin
Helena Buckie – Violin
Steve Proctor – Violin
Will McGahon – Violin
Ruth Gibson – Viola
Kimi Makino – Viola
Kay Stephen – Viola
Peggy Nolan – Cello
Will Hewer – Cello
Sam Becker – Double Bass