Revolver: tracing a path of virtuoso chamber music from the material to the abstract

Kate Moore, Revolver, The Netherlands, Unsounds, 72U limited edition CD (2021)

Since 2012, English-born Australian composer Kate Moore has been releasing full-length studio recordings at a fairly steady rate among other work: “Revolver” is her sixth album and her first for the Dutch-based Unsounds label. For this album, Moore brings together five musicians, all of whom happen to be women, to perform eight pieces she composed of varying lengths but none longer than eleven minutes. The general style of the music tends towards minimalist contemporary classical / formal composition with violinist Anna McMichael leading the quintet which includes Genevieve Lang on harp, Claire Edwardes on percussion, Rowena MacNeish on cello and Kirsty McCahon on double bass.

The tracks bounce between fairly static, atmospheric soundscape-like works and more active pieces of virtuoso playing. The musicians are a tight unit, all of whom seem very comfortable working together, playing very smoothly; the result is that the music flows beautifully with a lot of feeling and often much intensity as well. There are occasions where the musicians play as though obsessed, and listeners will be spellbound by the intensity of the music, particularly on “Song of Ropes II” where McMichael and McCahon go hell for leather in their duelling / duetting, and giving their all in their repartee. McMichael dominates most tracks but other musicians get a chance to shine on particular tracks: Edwardes is outstanding on vibraphone on most tracks but above all on “Way of the Dead”, this track featuring cold tones that emphasise hidden pain and tragedy; and Lang’s gentle harp brings an elegiac quality to closing track “The Gatekeeper”.

In the order that they appear, the track titles trace a narrative from the material world to a more abstract, immaterial plane with the “Song of Ropes” trio of tracks marking perhaps the transition from one level of matter to another. Each track is very different from the others so picking a favourite becomes a matter of personal preference: I found “Stroming” a very idiosyncratic and experimental work in its choppy virtuoso violin and cello playing, and “Song of Ropes II” is a very impressive piece of urgency and heightened drama.

From start to finish, this is an excellent album with all musicians on fire playing challenging compositions that pull the best out of them – the results are plain to hear!