Sunday 7 April 2013

Attractive Chamber and Instrumental works by David Braid on a recording from Toccata Classics

The composer David Braid (b.1970) was born in Wrexham and studied at the Royal College of Music from 1990-94. He studied guitar with Charles Ramirez and composition with Edwin Roxburgh as well as attending the composition classes of George Benjamin.

It was during his time at the college that he met many of the performers with whom he still works, notably Russian pianist Sergei Podobedov , violinist Yuri Kalnits  and pianists Rossitza Stoycheva  and Mikako Hori. David Braid spent a year at the Cracow Academy of Music studying composition with the late Marek Stachowski and a second year of private study with Zbigneiw Bujarksi. During his two years in Cracow he wrote a Violin Concerto and a work for chamber orchestra, Cause and Reaction (both since withdrawn for revision). David later undertook further composition study, with Robert Saxton at Oxford University.

His work has been performed not only in the UK but in the USA, Germany, Poland, Russia, Denmark, Sweden and South America. Recently, the string orchestra version of his setting of Pablo Neruda’s poem Mañana, ‘Morning’ was premiered in Moscow. The original version, for soprano and string quartet received its UK premiere at the Wigmore Hall sung by Grace Davidson. ‘Morning’ was also broadcast on Australian radio in 2011. As well as concert music, David Braid has written a number of film scores.

He has received numerous awards and scholarships including The John Longmire Prize for Composition, Royal College of Music; The Jack Morrison Prize for Guitar, RCM; The Composition Prize for Youth Orchestra, Murcia, Spain; The Fine Arts Sinfonia Composition Prize (London); The Waterson Scholarship, University of Oxford; the Oppenheim/Downes Memorial Scholarship; The University Graduate Scholarship, University of Oxford and SPNM Short-listed composer 2001, among others. Composers that have influenced his work are Sibelius, Lutoslawski, Brian Ferneyhough and Per Norgard.

A recording by Toccata Classics features chamber music and instrumental music by David Braid performed by some of those musicians that he first met at the RCM.

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Morning for soprano and string quartet Op.3 was written in 2006 and is a setting of the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda’s (1904-1973) ‘Mañana’. It was given its first performance by Grace Davidson . As the sound of the shimmering strings slowly enter, Braid immediately conjures up a distinctive sound world, yet when the soprano enters and totally blends with the strings, the atmosphere becomes even more striking with her vibrato less voice. And what a fine voice Grace Davidson has. This setting, based on a falling two note motif, is spellbindingly beautiful and is varied by the quartet’s differing textures and rhythms, the cello in particular giving a rhythmic pulse. Between verses three and four there is an interlude for quartet, a lovely atmospheric dreamscape. The long drawn vocal phrases set the music very well.

David Braid’s Three Pieces for solo piano Op.8, written in 2008 for pianist Sergei Podobedov, who performs them here, opens with a Lyrical Toccata, with a single note in one hand set against a faster motif in the other. Making use of a simple system of ratios, the faster theme increases in the number of notes played against the single note until returning to a single note itself, creating a remarkably intricate piece. Aria is a halting little piece, songful yet reserved and Three Part Invention is a simple yet affecting piece with the three parts used to create some attractive musical lines.

Written in 2010 for the performers on this recording, Yuri Kalnits and Sergei Podobedov, Invention for Violin and Piano Op.11 opens with a rising phrase for piano before the violin enters. As the violin develops the material there are Messiaen like intervals and phrases with the instruments sharing and alternating the themes. The two performers are excellent but unfortunately the poor acoustic gives the violin something of an edge. Nevertheless this is a thoroughly enjoyable work.

Composed in 2011 for the Erato Piano Trio  and clarinettist Peter Cigleris , Sonata for Quartet Op.13 opens quietly on the strings with lovely shimmering sounds, the clarinet playing quietly in the background with the piano picking out the tune. Soon the piano develops more flow, with the strings then joined by the clarinet. Braid uses the instruments nicely by sharing out the musical argument amongst them so that they enter and leave providing a seamless flow as they overlap. As the work progresses the textures become richer and more layered, in this cleverly constructed music. There is a beautiful passage for clarinet and piano, a passage for solo violin, then piano slowly combining with the clarinet. Towards the end there is an extended solo piano passage before the clarinet and strings enter, playing a little theme that speeds up before being suddenly cut off.

Infinite Reminiscence for Two Pianos Op.4 was written in 2009 for the piano duo of Rossitza Stoycheva and Mikako Hori  who perform the work in this recording. A lightly picked out theme for one piano is slowly joined by the second piano providing a sonorous bass layer. This is an extremely attractive little piece, full of atmosphere and so delicately written for the two pianists. The two pianists come together as the music progresses, the music becoming clearer and less diffuse before ending quietly.

David Braid drew on an idea from a book called A perfect Vacuum, which consisted of reviews of non-existent books, to write Music for dancers for Piano Trio Op.9 a work for non-existent dancers. The work was written for the Erato Piano Trio in 2009, and it is they who perform it here. The violin opens the work before being joined by the cello, then piano, in this rather more astringent and tonally free section. Soon the music becomes more harmonious but the solo piano soon returns to the opening sound. The strings join as the music increases in tempo and emotion. Eventually the music slows until there is just the piano. The strings again slowly enter in a slightly wistful theme. The violin eventually takes the lead over pizzicato cello and piano to quietly end this lovely work, full of unusual charm and invention.

The short Postlude for solo piano Op.10 was written for the performer here, Jelena Laković  in 2010. Although recorded in the same venue as the Invention for Violin and Piano, the acoustic seems to suit the piano far better. Postlude opens with a three note motif that slowly becomes more focused as it progresses. The theme is slowly worked out in varying ways, the opening notes returning before a further working out of the theme in ways that become quite decorative and distanced from the original theme. This is an attractive work, sounding somewhat like an improvisation.

I am really glad to have heard these attractive works and hope to hear more from this fascinating composer. The performers are first rate and the recordings, made at a number of locations, are generally excellent. There are first rate booklet notes from the composer.

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