Tuesday 14 October 2014

What's in a Miniature?

Francisco Coll
On Sunday 2 November Britten Sinfonia premiere a new work by young Spanish composer, Francisco Coll. Entitled Four Minatures, the piece will be conducted by Thomas Adès and performed at Saffron Hall, Saffron Walden. Francisco Coll studied at the Valencia and Madrid Conservatoires before moving to London as a private pupil of Thomas Adès (his only pupil to date), and a student at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. In this blog post we find out a little more about the piece he has written, which has been co-commissioned by Britten Sinfonia and Saffron Hall. Musicologist Ramón Sánchez Ochoa reveals all;

In painting, the miniature is a delicate thing; small and more often than not serving as a book illustration. The Four Miniatures of Francisco Coll, pieces of two to three minutes duration each, both are and are not ‘miniatures’ in a conventional sense. Slight dimensions – yes - and displaying a painstakingly thorough construction, but not illustrating anything per se; not directed towards an outside reality but rather sufficient within their own sonic effervescence. These are paradoxical ‘miniatures’, then, which simultaneously focus and enlarge, dilate and condense, the popular elements that inspire them. In his engagement with the vernacular, Coll does not follow the watchword of earlier Spanish composers such as Pedrell: he is not searching for the quintessence, the subtle perfume, of popular song. Rather, it is the obvious, the ‘obvious’ tradition which he takes and transmutes - sifting it through his unique and unusual aesthetic sensibility.

The first miniature opens with wild, frenzied chords whilst the frenetic movements of fandango evoke the distant echoes of heels and palms. Coll’s is a black and white Andalucismo, without picturesque flowery patios, close to a sound hallucination. While the violin clutches at a few ethereal pizzicati, the melodic line undoes itself through an elusive hocketting, a flickering between the eerie and the dreamlike, which ends in utter silence, met with knowing (and characteristically Hispanic) winks.

In the second miniature’s slow introduction, double and triple-stops stretch the violin’s torn voice which seems to both state and retract, reaffirm and refuse. After the rhythmic dissonances their tortured tango rhythm arises - not a tango de salón but an X-ray (the magnetised resonance) of an expressionist tango with all its coarse rhythms and cadences. After the storm comes the calm: following its initial arpeggios of the third miniature a lament for the violin arises before being gradually torn apart by glissandi. Of all the four pieces this is the one steeped most deeply in flamenco, with its augmented-second leaps which positively smack of the Andalusian cadence. Like a fine spring rain, the melodic line is diluted between the figurative and abstract (if these words have any meaning at all in music): it is a subtle pointillism between the known and the unknown, between what is said and what is guessed.

A frantic wind crosses the work’s final pages: brief repeated cells, like movie frames stuck in a deranged projector, move from near-inaudible pianissimos to the most extreme fortissimo, contrary and unrequited impulses that arise from the negation of their selves. Bar by bar, an imperfect circle surrounds, envelops and intoxicates us, carrying us with it. The Four Miniatures run like lightning. After the final notes we are left perplexed and fascinated by the distance between lyricism and harshness, between the fog and the foreground, poised on that thin, flinty edge that separates the serious from the comic.

Ramón Sánchez Ochoa

The concert takes place on Sunday 2 November at Saffron Hall, Saffron Walden and alongside the premiere of Coll's new work the programme features Thomas Adès' own violin concerto, Concentric Paths and his Piano Quintet alongside Stravinsky's Suite for Small Orchestra and Sibelius' Six Humoresques. Click here for more info and to book tickets.

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