Trees in the Community

Excellent string work on the album Tús (NEW FOCUS RECORDINGS FCR327), a collection of recent compositions by the Irish-American composer Finola Merivale. The five pieces are played by the Desdemona Ensemble, featuring the outstanding violin playing of Adrianne Munden-Dixon; plus cellists Carrie Frey and Julian Henderson, and violinist Caroline Drexler. We also hear live electronics on one track, and the piano of Margarita Rovenskaya on another.

There’s a lot we could extract from this dense and complex music, but the takeaway for the day is mostly emotional – there’s a lot of energy and anger, expressed as a desire to make the music challenging and indeed somewhat “visceral”. Merivale talks of “crossing the line”, in what appears to be a feisty attempt to shake up the cosy world of modern classical music, and in particular to excite the audience simply by presenting them with a certain amount of difficulty. The players in Desdemona not only embrace this strategy, they proceed to manifest it with heart and soul. I think it’s fair to say that Adrianne Munden-Dixon is more than an interpreter of Merivale’s scores, and she deserves to be credited as an active collaborator in these ideas. I suppose ‘Do You Hear Me Now?’, a piece partly intended as a slap in the face to critics and establishment figures who brushed Finola Merivale aside simply for being a woman, is one of the immediate audience-grabbers here, but bend an ear also to ‘Arbores Erimus’, which is Munden-Dixon playing solo with live electronics. Inspirational starting points here were a drawing of a tree and a line from a Thomas Hardy poem, but the composer and musicians have developed these images and ideas into a unique piece of mysterious, trancey, slightly menacing music, using technology to help push at the edges of the frame. (08/06/2022)

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