Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Glasgow

Keith Bruce

four stars

FOLLOWING, in ambition as well as the repurposing of some specific musical material, his piano concerto Endlings, premiered by the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland and James Willshire a year and a half ago, Jay Capperauld’s long suite for piano and alto saxophone is a big, demanding work, especially for the players, Marianna Abrahamyan and the reedsman Lewis Banks, who commissioned it.

The first thing to say, therefore, is that both of them were quite superbly prepared for this premiere. There are a lot of notes in the 80 minutes, although each of them had some respite during solos by the other and both during the other crucial ingredient of the work, five sections of film narrative created by Paul Wright. The composition is very carefully structured by the composer, with the pianist’s four solo “Conservations” acting not unlike the Promenades in Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, and the Bach-derived sax solo, Deja-Vu, falling just before half way through the work. In the opening and closing sections there were echoes of French music from the start of the last century, while the precision playfulness of Gyorgy Ligeti is explicitly referenced in another central movement.

All of this is in response to some of the stories in David Eagleman’s book, Sum: Forty tales from the afterlives, and although the composer makes all of his inspiration clear in a copious programme note, it is Wright’s contribution to the whole project that brings a clarity to its performance fundamental from the perspective of the audience.

His almost-monochromatic sequences play with many of the tropes of the sci-fi and horror movie genres, a central female faced with a succession of doors, falling through space and visited by mysterious figures and an ambiguous hipster physician. With their own electronic soundtrack, they do stand slightly apart from Capperauld’s score, but their presence, perhaps counter-intuitively, helps integrate the whole performance.

A second performance on Saturday October 5 is part of this year’s Cumnock Tryst, and Afterlife is a package that would sit well in many other contexts and will reward further listening. Truth to tell, if the parties were to agree on a version that came in about twenty minutes shorter is might have an even better chance of more outings.