Album review: Perpetulum

May 22, 2019 (June issue)
by Guy Rickards

“glisteningly impressive”

“This is a hugely enjoyable set, intelligently programmed, brilliantly performed and closely recorded.”

Philip Glass gets top billing here, unsurprisingly I suppose, for — astonishingly — his first work for percussion ensemble, the four-player Perpetulum (2018). Written for Third Coast Percussion, it is a virtuoso and entertaining showpiece in three parts with a brief cadenza prefacing the finale. Its momentum is not really that of a conventional perpetuum mobile, though there are elements of that at times, particularly in the toccata-like second part. Although there are gentler moments as well, Perpetulum’s busy discourse rarely rises to more elevated heights.

If Perpetulum is not the most exciting work here, there are others that fit the bill, not least the concluding work on disc 2, Gavin Bryars’s The Other Side of the River (2016), also written for Third Coast Percussion. It is a glisteningly impressive single-span fantastia for the four players, serene and mesmeric in equal measure. By contrast, David Skidmore’s Aliens with Extraordinary Abilities (2016) — the sole work on the 35-minute first disc — is a seven-movement suite of enormous diversity, ranging across minimalist euphony, modern-jazz like riffs, some discreet electronic manipulation and, in the brief finale, a not dissimilar quietude to Bryars’s. It is the longest and most invigorating work of the five and the most immediate in impact.

It is curious that the booklet accompanying the two discs only discusses Glass’s piece, and makes a mere passing reference to the Bryars. I would have liked to know more of the inspiration behind the pieces by Skidmore, Peter Martin, and Robert Dillon. As they are all members of Third Coast Percussion, is their reticence attributed to misguided modesty? If so, one can but be thankful it did not translate also into the composition and execution of these exciting and nicely diverse pieces. If BEND by Martin and Dillon’s Ordering-instincts, both composed in 2014, are more modest creations, they fit very nicely between the larger compositions. This is a hugely enjoyable set, intelligently programmed, brilliantly performed and closely recorded. What a shame Sean Connors did not pen a companion piece to close the circle!

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