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Fine classical chamber music from contemporary American composer Adam Roberts on his Bell Threads (NEW FOCUS RECORDINGS FCR312). He not only has a variety of modes and approaches, but he’s enlisted some first-class performers on these solo, duo, trio, and quartet pieces, among whom we’d have to single out the oboe player Erik Behr and the harpist Hannah Lash.

A full appreciation of the nuanced works of Roberts would require more musicological skills than I possess – the notes here speak of such accomplishments as his investigations into “pitch vocabulary” and “developing motivic ideas”, but what comes over to this listener is a certain boldness within the permitted limits of melody and harmony, without becoming sentimental. Adam Roberts may steer clear of the severities of 12-tone serialism, but he takes wild leaps with his tunes that requires an equally gifted player to realise them. I’m especially taken with the curlicues and elaborations on ‘Oboe Quartet’, performed here by the JACK quartet, which was originally scored to be played alongside a Mozart piece; and the complex patterns and layers that are hidden in the harp solo piece ‘Rounds’.

Then there’s the brilliant use of clashing string tones from the violin/viola team of andPlay (Maya Bennardo and Hannah Levinson), heard to great effect on both parts of the ‘Diptych’, where the two gifted players execute near-impossible feats of microtonality and fast-moving scales. We get to hear some rare examples of “extended technique” where the kind of scraping noise we’d usually associate with a free improviser is brilliantly incorporated into the score. A strong set that demonstrates the composer’s lyrical and expressionist themes. (12/11/2021)

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