Saturday, July 13, 2002


Barry Mills, Morning Sea (chamber pieces), Evira and Aciel Bekova (Claudio CC43182).

I discovered Barry Mills' refreshing collection of miniatures, 'Morning Sea', quite by chance - at an art open house associated with the Brighton Festival a couple of years ago. Intrigued by what I heard, I bought a copy. This CD is part of a trilogy, the other chamber collections being 'Mosaics' and 'Under the Stars'.

Mills started out as a self-taught composer and has since been tutored by Colin Matthews (of Holst after-movement fame). He combines outdoor pursuits and manual work with composition, and evinces a particular interest in the relationship between musical language, visual images and mind maps. His work is impressionistic rather than formal in its concerns, however. On 'Morning Sea' the emphasis is very much on building a sense of atmosphere through tone, texture and contrast.

Mills' music is tonal, but not unadventurous in its melodic patterns in the way that distinctly non-modernist moderns can be. After a while you begin to recognise one or two fairly evident techniques - insistent repeated riffs, doubling, call-and-response, moody key shifts, interesting block chords (sometimes vaguely reminiscent of Messiaen or Crumb), slow arpeggiated bursts. It can feel a little mannered, but it is thoughtful and often strikingly beautiful.

I enjoyed listening to the 'Piano Sketches for Children' alongside Chick Corea's 'Children's Songs' - very different, with their changing washes of sound held on sustain and una corda pedals (as the composer points out in his useful accompanying notes).

The Beklova Sisters and their accompanists obviously have a feel for Mills' music and give tender performances. I found the rather plummy acoustic a little distracting - a small quarrel with the producer / engineer. And the one compositional area where Mills' contrasts seem a bit too subtle for his own good (given what else is going on) is in the tempo department. It's all so intense in its moodiness.

But these are quibbles. This is a fine, graceful collection of chamber pieces in a modern romantic (but not reactionary) vein. I commend 'Morning Sea' and will make a note to check out the other two discs at some point.

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