Luxe, calme et volupte

SOFIA TRONCOSO, PATRICK NOLAN & ALEX RAINERI

Music Viva

Queensland Conservatorium Theatre

Wednesday November 24, 2021

(L to R) Sofia Troncoso, Patrick Nolan, Alex Raineri

Closing its never-say-die year, Musica Viva once again celebrated the talents of local musicians which, in these dodgy times, means Queenslanders. This particular evening focused on the salon; specifically, the French variety and, by and large, the program stuck to the task, although the opening offering seemed a tad out-of-place. But who’s to say that Bellini arias weren’t standard fare in the greenhouse atmosphere of the Guermantes and Verdurin get-togethers? That’s what soprano Troncoso began this night with – Eccomi in lieta vesta/O quante volte from I Capuleti e i Montecchi and which is Juliet’s first appearance, coloured by prominent, mournful horns that were here replaced by Nolan‘s flute. The only part of this opera that I know, the recitative/aria gave the singer plenty of space to exercise her range and dynamic control, the higher reaches of the work heading towards pitch problems with a a strong vibrato intruding across the word intorno but disappearing for some creditable mini-cadenzas to brillar il giorno and the second-last in tuo sospir, this last a sensitive preparation for the concluding bar-and-a-bit.

More likely fare for the salon came in Doppler’s Mazurka de Salon, a non-stop show-piece for Nolan with pianist Raineri (once again fulfilling his occupation as accompanist for all seasons by replacing the scheduled Stephen Emmerson) offering discreet chord support. Both artists appeared quite happy with each other in the frequent stops, starts, rallentandi, accelerandi, swoops and curvets that typify this highly decorative material. While the Mazurka presented as not so blatantly virtuosic as when expounded by other flautists, Nolan kept a fine grasp on the work’s mobility and preserved its sense, eschewing the temptation to make a gabble of its prolix solo line.

Reaching for the highest point that can be associated with the salon, Raineri played three of Chopin’s Op. 28 Preludes, beginning with No. 20 in C minor, its Largo enjoying a very slow approach from this pianist who showed a clear relish for the bass octaves across the opening bars and a determination to elongate the distance between chords in the repetition of the second strophe. No. 22 in B flat found the pianist doing his best to give us high-flying Romanticism, using plenty of rubato and taking more opportunities to vary phrase lengths than most interpreters I’ve come across. In the final Prelude of this collection, the D minor pedal dominated the first 10 bars, but that made the eventual move off it all the more dramatic. I wasn’t over-impressed by the first scale-rush to a top F in bars 14-15 because of a lack of definition and the famous descending chromatic 3rds run sounded indistinct rather than fulfilling its anticipated scouring effect. As with his first Chopin, Raineri presented a most distinctive and individual version of this prelude, well worth the experience for its drive and responses to parts of the score that are often glossed over.

More indisputable salon music arrived with three Hahn songs from Troncoso and Raineri. L’heure exquise saw the singer manage her upward 6th and 7th leaps with telling smoothness – high points in a fairly monochromatic song. A Chloris gave Raineri room in his interludes to execute some elegant note-pointing while the vocal line sustained the required measured and even style of delivery that infuses this work with ancien regime elegance. Still, I though the third number, L’enamouree, came off best in the group, Troncoso demonstrating clean output and deliberation in her work, caressing the line in an example of eloquent sentiment – the exercise a moving partnership between these musicians.

In the evening’s solitary voice/flute duet, Troncoso and Nolan gave a finely executed reading of Roussel’s Rossignol, mon mignon, their interleaving mutually considerate to the point where good manners went too far; more self-assertiveness, especially from the instrumental line, might have mitigated the effect of a fluent but aimless set of pages. More persuasive although a less accomplished piece was the program’s only genuine voice/flute/piano trio: the first of the 3 Odelettes ancreontiques by Maurice Emmanuel, Au printemps – another example of how much the Greeks have to answer for. This was harmonically lush, thanks to Raineri ensuring that each change of colour made its point, while Nolan pulled back in dynamic power, even at that tempting point where poet Remi Belleau speaks of birds playing in water and Emmanuel responds with some telling glissades. But then, this is a soft song, rising to an mf marking at Number 2 in the Durand edition for barely five bars.

Having celebrated the early 19th century salon with his Chopin bracket, Raineri moved to the last century with some of Szymanowski’s Nine Preludes, the composer’s Op. 1: intriguing products as the composer’s own choices from his juvenilia, as being indebted to Chopin’s Op. 28, and as indicative of Szymanowski’s experiments with novel compositional language. We heard three of these works: No. I which sets three against two throughout its brief duration; No. IV does the same thing but with more chromatic swerving around an ambiguously applied key signature; and the E flat minor No. VIII which was the most Chopin-suggestive of the three and a splendidly fluid creation expertly accounted for.

Finally, Nolan had his turn in the spotlight, for which he chose the most famous flute solo of modern times (apart from Varese’s Density 21.5): Debussy’s Syrinx of 1913, actually written for a ballet and to be played off-stage. This player is highly experienced and has the craft and insight to shape the piece into a fluent construct, in this interpretation covering an ample dynamic range and tempering the lengths required for breaths as well as maintaining the work’s direction through the cedez, rubato, un peu mouvemente points, the whole finishing with a masterfully controlled final 5 bars and the softest concluding D flat.

More Debussy followed with the Chansons de Bilitis, again demonstrating the sympathy between Troncoso and Raineri as they negotiated the slightly tinted character of long stretches in these three works. For instance, La Flute de Pan is recitative with clear stretches where the vocal line stays on one note while the piano employs several colourful additives – the titular flute, certainly, but also details like the frog imitation just before the last rushed line about the singer deceiving her mother.

About this point, the performers were distracted by some buzzing or electrical interference which could have been feedback from the Conservatorium hall’s recording system, or its speakers, or a hearing aid turned up too loud – this last an all-too-common feature of musical events I’ve attended in the Salon of Melbourne’s Recital Centre, or at the Australian National Academy of Music, or even in Hamer Hall. Whatever, the sound, lowered itself, if not quite to nothingness, and the duo simply pressed on.

In La chevelure, Troncoso generated a fine lyrical arch at la meme chevelure and maintained the song’s urgency up to the final Quand il eut acheve, from which point the composer gives us a superb exhibition of near-stasis harmonically while the vocal line folds in on itself. Finally, I found great pleasure in Raineri’s block chord work across Le tombeau des naiades and the clarity of his parallel right-hand 3rds from bar 11 till the fourth-last measure. On top of this, Troncoso gave a fine display of controlled power leading to the song’s explosion into F sharp minor.

Finally, all three artists came together for another hybrid in La flute enchantee from Ravel’s lopsided Sheherazade triptych. I can’t trace who did the arrangement but it made for an engaging if brief conclusion to the program, the performers making a generous gift of the opening three lines, keeping their heads in the active central Allegro, and observing the letter of the law in the brief free-for-all in the Lent before Number 4 in the Durand edition. A gem to finish this tour de chambre, even if the Ravel song belongs in the concert hall rather than a more intimate space, and it was delivered with a quiet panache that had graced a good deal of this varied entertainment.

Very welcome if brief view

BAROQUE IN BLOOM

Australian Brandenburg Orchestra

Brandenburg One

Saturday November 20, 2021

Paul Dyer

It’s been years – well, over two – since I last heard the Australian Brandenburgers at work. Not that you could have expected more frequency, given the off-again, off-again nature of Australian concert-giving during our pandemic. Added to which, the organization would have put Brisbane excursions on the backburner when facing the shrinking possibility of getting on-stage in its home town. In our communal gap years, we’ve been offered some online scraps from specific orchestra members and two digital screenings, of which this program is the more recent.

Plenty of familiar faces emerged across the six constituents of this program which found the ABO mining one of its finest seams in Italian Baroque violin scores. Associate concertmaster Matthew Bruce has been a Brandenburg member almost since the beginning, as has guitarist/theorboist Tommie Andersson. Cellists Anthea Cottee and Rosemary Quinn are very familiar faces, as are violists Monique O’Dea and Marianne Yeomans. Some other participants have become familiar in different contexts, like Madeleine Easton from the Bach Akademie Australia, Matthew Greco from the Australian Haydn Ensemble and the Muffat Collective, Anton Baba from the Australian Romantic & Classical Orchestra.

Others were complete unknowns to me, like the violinists James Armstrong, Rafael Font, James Tarbotton and bass Bonita Williams, although this last I must have come across as she performed with both Orchestra Victoria and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra before settling into the Opera Australia pit in 2016. Whatever their provenance, the composite ensemble worked with fine rapport for most of this brief (35 minutes) program which comprised Marini’s Capriccio Per Sonare il Violino con tre corde a modo di Lira with Easton leading an elegantly contrived quartet; three of the ten concerti grossi in Giovanni Lorenzo Gregori’s Op. 2 set, a different concertmaster for each; Vivaldi’s C Major Sinfonia RV 116, Dyer directing with customary brio; and Corelli’s Ciacona Trio Sonata, the last of his Op. 2, with Tarbotton and Armstrong in excellent partnership.

Mind you, this broadcast was a fair while in arriving: it was recorded on September 24 in the Sydney Recital Hall. The program’s title was given substance by surrounding the performers with floral arrangements amounting to mini-jungles from some angles. Still, the entertainment had an appealing shape, moving from the solo spotlight on Easton for the Marini, through the exposed two Corelli violins, the exercise ending with exuberant full-blooded panache in the Vivaldi romp.

One of the delights of the Baroque is that room for improvisation or manipulation is wide; most of the performances we hear fulfil expectations because the scores are complete and set in stone, e.g. the St. Matthew Passion, The Four Seasons, Judas Maccabeus. Dyer and his band are quite prepared to take liberties, particularly with music that is all bare bones. For instance, the Marini Capriccio; the score I’ve come across is 53 bars long and heavy on unadorned chords at the opening, in the middle, and at the end. Easton opened with an unaccompanied solo, setting up her main interpretative model of arpeggiated three-part chords, before the continuo – Dyer on organ, Andersson on theorbo and Baba’s gamba – entered. From which point on, the interpretation followed Marini’s chord progressions faithfully in a reading that – quite -rightly – left all the running to Easton’s crystalline upper part.

For the one-movement Corelli sonata, the same three players provided the accompaniment, Dyer moving to a harpsichord, and each of them having a statement of the chaconne in turn before Tarbotton and Armstrong entered with flawlessly articulated and balanced interweaving lines. From both violinists, the style of address proved congruent, the dynamic changes calculated to a nicety and both sequences and canonic writing clean enough to sound as though one player was operating both instruments. All right: it’s not difficult music, not even when it switches in bar 17 to Allegro, but the piece requires finesse and empathy to carry off. Here was another example of music you don’t want to stop and, for a moment, I thought it wouldn’t when the soloists repeated their opening plangent Largo.

Then the ABO cohort presented the three Gregori works in a boxed set – Nos. 1, 2 and 5 with Greco, Bruce and Font serving as respective concertmasters. Of these, No. 1 in C Major and No. 5 in B minor were enjoying their Australian premieres; fine work, resurrecting some amiable material which could stand light comparison with the composer’s contemporaries Vivaldi and Corelli. All listed personnel except Baba took part in Gregori’s scores. In the outer two, the flower arrangements disappeared but the playing didn’t suffer; indeed, Greco’s control of the C Major work was exemplary for its restraint and sympathy. The rather ordinary melodic content enjoyed some relief with a sinuous solo from the leader in the central Adagio, the whole concerto enjoying several sparkling duets in its finale from Greco and Armstrong.

Bruce directed the No. 2 Concerto in D with just as much security as had Greco. After a bar or two of the opening Grave, Dyer took over with an extended harpsichord solo of high tedium – a series of arpeggios wandering around D Major for the most part and calling to mind the Brandenburg No. 5’s cadenza for no apparent reason. Maybe Gregori wrote it; possibly it was an add-on but to me this solo sounded out-of-character with everything else we heard. Its meandering path eventually led to a dominant pause and we entered the jolly, welcome Allegro. Bruce prepared us for the Adagio with a brief cadenza and closed up the movement with another one before the vivacious rush of Gregori’s Allegro finale which featured some more duets between Bruce and Greco, the latter leading the second violins who had changed position and faced Bruce and his firsts.

No. 5 in B minor was performed in a dark purple lighting to match its tonality, although Scriabin attached this shade to C sharp, investing B with blue. For this reading, some bass players had been moved but the two sets of violins still stood on opposing sides of the space; Dyer moved between organ and harpsichord, starting out at the former for the initial Largo, moving for the tuckets of the first Allegro, then back to the organ for the Adagio and staying there for the gigue-style finale. Leader Font kept his focus on the job in hand and showed an admirable mastery of piano dynamic in rapid-fire passages as well as rounding out the excellent duo playing – a prime feature in all three Gregori compositions – by his partnership with Greco in the concluding pages.

All too soon, we came to the Vivaldi sinfonia, which was all Dyer; well, there’s no show without Punch. For this, the harpsichord took centre stage, surrounded by flowers, with all other players (including Baba) standing/sitting in a circle around this floral fulcrum. A bracing allegro, in which everybody seemed to know exactly what they were about despite Dyer’s gesturing, came across with commendable crispness. Prior to the Andante, we were gifted another Dyer solo between the work’s bars 76 and 77, a further one at the movement’s halfway point at bar 90, and finally yet another leading into the last Allegro which was a triumph for the Brandenburgers’ precision and elan. Yes: it was C Major and moved only to the dominant and back, so it’s not as though people were grappling with demands on their left-hand technique. Still, it was a welcome chaser to an enjoyable half-hour and bracing to hear these strings performing close to their best.

The life so brief, the art so long in the learning

SIMPLY BACH

Christopher Howlett

Melbourne Digital Concert Hall

Wednesday November 17, 2021

Christopher Howlett

Is there life after the Melbourne Digital Concert Hall? Will the organization slip into the background or into nothingness when we enter the world’s springtime of no more lockdowns, vaccination of the total population extending to children in the womb, the relegation of the Morrison cabinet to exile on Pitcairn, and the accession of Greta Thunberg to President of the World? Put simply, no. As far as can be told, the Concert Hall shall not cease from exploration but will continue to fund its contributing musicians, ensuring them some kind of income from their professional practice in the same manner as has seen both Chris Howlett and Adele Schonhardt deliver 430 concerts/recitals since they began operations last year.

This achievement was modestly celebrated through Wednesday evening’s recital from Howlett comprising two Bach cello suites: No. 1 in G and No. 3 in C. All six suites are part of every serious cellist’s aesthetic DNA, just as the 32 Beethoven sonatas have primacy of place in each pianist’s professional world. It was evident that these suites are imbedded in Howlett’s fibre as both readings spoke with firmness and an integrity of delivery that showed a disciplined approach, each movement interleaving temperamentally with its companions. Along the way, you could take issue with some rhythmic choices peculiar to this player and some unexpected line-shaping idiosyncrasies, but such problems worked as pin-pricks, forgettable in the general scheme of these performances – unless you expend too much energy being a literalist or are captious about everything.

In the first suite’s Prelude, a kind of Apotheosis of the Arpeggio, I welcomed Howlett’s avoidance of emphasis on the low Gs in the first 4 1/2 bars, and later on the F sharps and Gs beginning at bar 15. Mind you, he made up for this with a hefty address on the repeated D that dominates bars 27 to 41, eloquently leavened by a splendidly light approach to the final four semiquavers of bar 39: a touch of shading that relieved the glorious clamour of these concluding strophes. The following Allemande showed several traces of individuality like the near-staccato approach to the cadential D before the double bar, and the aggressive attack on the A-B-C chain in bar 19.

As with all other interpreters, Howlett suited himself – within reason and musical logic – about where he inserted his phrasing pauses, nowhere better illustrated than in his Courante to this suite. It’s a delicate and difficult balance, keeping the fluency that’s so obvious on the page but at the same time investing the musical progress with breathing spaces that amount to interruptions of such significance as to ask the listener to compensate for any absence of metronomic regularity. My only problem came in bar 27 the first time round where the F sharp or E misfired. As for the Sarabande, you would be hard to please if you found this less than masterful, even in its splayed multi-stop chords which punctuated a generous and powerfully-limned upper line.

While giving both Menuets a welcome regularity of approach – they’re essentially dances, more than anything heard so far – Howlett reacted sensibly at the concluding notes to bars 18 and 20 of the minor-key Menuet II by observing a slight hiatus on both; after all, these are the crisis points of this benign amble. And the Gigue was handled as a driving burst of energy, unimpeded in its thrust by that solitary triple stop in bar 4. The delivery here smacked of the bucolic in its affirmative downbeats and a noticeable avoidance of polish – just the crunch of bow on string and a fine highlighting of Bach as a base mechanical (for once).

For the opening Prelude of the C Major Suite, Howlett changed tack and made a feature of accenting most of the first beats – extra weight, extra time. Against this came the urgent drive in play from bar 45 to bar 61 with the displaced arpeggios built on G constructing a compelling sonorous edifice. Finally, a startlingly undemonstrative treatment of Bach’s dramatic conclusion: a peroration that opens with an abrupt four-part chord putting a stop to the incessant run of semiquavers, followed by a superb rhetorical flourish or four that remind you in miniature of the violin Chaconne – the whole capped by a harking-back to the opening bar. Howlett’s double-stops in bars 6 to 7 of the Allemande worked more effectively on the repeat, and the final crotchet’s worth of bar 19 came over as rather throwaway in an otherwise evenly fluent environment. Otherwise, the rhythmic consistency proved steady and clear, in the main.

A generous weightiness informed the Courante‘s opening, infectious enough to make both halves’ repeats all the more welcome, their punchiness leavened by a delicate hesitancy across bars 73 to 77. A few questionable points of articulation arose during the Sarabande with some notes sounding an octave above pitch, probably due to bowing lapses, although both repeats proved impeccable as the interpreter delineated this movement’s remarkable variety of utterance involving rich aggregations and chords leading into unpredictable single-line bursts.

Both Bouree movements recalled the bounce and bucolicism of the G Major Suite’s Menuets, the attack demonstrating Bach’s matchless facility of inspiration, making much out of the simplest material and demonstrating a splendid emotional power, notably at the repeat of the first Bouree – those first notes a heartwarming restoration of the natural order (not really, but that’s the way I hear it). Even here, small details impressed, like the last four notes of bar 11 in Bouree II which piqued interest for their staccato character, and the early sounding of this piece’s final bass C (or was that unintentional?). Apart from a dodgy B in bar 17, the Gigue proved very persuasive with a well-plotted contrast between the deft sequential writing – bars 8 to 18, then 57 to 64 – and that infectious scrubbing motion across bars 20 to 32, later more aggressive between 80 and 92.

Both works have become very familiar in their original forms, most recital-giving cellists presenting either one of these or, occasionally, one of the other four. Even in concerto appearances, you’d be hard pressed to recall an encore that wasn’t a Bach suite movement. Expert visitors have impressed with their power of projection, or their smooth articulation, sometimes a welcome vehemence that drags Bach out of the 19th century salon. Howlett’s versions made their mark through an honesty of insight – no affectations, just a few more frills than the composer required, and an impressive coherence by means of which the suites maintained their intellectual and emotional rigour. In other words, a fine realization of craft – in the notes themselves, and in their delivery.

Satire in short pants

CATALOGUE DES ERRANCES BIBLIQUES

Michael Kieran Harvey & Arjun von Caemmerer

Move Records MD 3457

Something out of left field here. It’s a further collaboration between Harvey and von Caemmerer; their target this time is religion, albeit only a corner of that substantial field – Christianity. Originally written for two pianos, this CD records a concert given at the Australian National Academy of Music on May 25, 2019 in which the participating forces were considerably enlarged. The composer leads the keyboard forces, seconded by ANAM’s resident pianist Timothy Young. Assisting on other keyboards are Sine Winther, Amanda Pang, Hannah Pike, Maggie Pang, Jennifer Yu and Liam Wooding. As well, this alternative version finds room for four percussionists: ANAM’s Head of Percussion Peter Neville playing drum kit; James Knight and Alexander Meagher on assorted instruments; Alison Fane handling the big guns on timpani. Alternating with the 25 music tracks, von Caemmerer reads his complementary poems. While these don’t appear on the small sheet that comes with the disc, they can be found on the Move website, if you need to find them; but the poet’s enunciation is clarity exemplified.

As are his texts, which are hard to ignore in favour of Harvey’s scores. Like the poems, Harvey’s 25 pieces are brief, several lasting a little over a minute, and their titles can be linked to von Caemmerer’s preceding theses. The compendium’s title has a sort of reference to Messiaen’s Catalogue d’oiseaux, a monumental inspiration that Harvey recorded 16 years ago. As well, the pianist/composer refers to another source in The Book of Mormon musical of 2011 – wasted on me as I don’t know the work and am unlikely to come across it. This also is a satire on religious beliefs, emphasizing their unrealistic aspects, and that seems to be part of the rationale behind Harvey/von Caemmerer’s list of Biblical ‘errancies’.

Von Caemmerer’s principal source appears to be The Encyclopedia of Biblical Errancy by American atheist Dennis McKinsey. It appears that much of the spoken material on this CD has been inspired by McKinsey’s publication or springs out of stimuli provided by it. At the end of the on-line booklet accompanying the CD, you can find a list of sources cited in the 25 spoken tracks. Very occasionally, the focus shifts from New Testament miracles and Old Testament history/prophecy to current topics put under a rationalist’s magnifying glass, or to simple instances of religion at fault. One you will encounter deals almost obsessively with George Pell, who is the easiest of marks when documenting Christian errors and a pretty facile choice of target when the CD’s collaborators could have gone after much more nuanced characters like Daniel Mannix, Norman Gilroy or Guildford Young. I can’t detect any time being expended on the towering offence or error in the modern-day Christian churches of paedophilia; you can write volumes about this sin/crime but it’s probably a big ask giving it any kind of musical correspondance.

In terms of targets, von Caemmerer selects an all-too-easy set of ‘errors’ but he also branches out into obvious myths as well as parables. So, alongside Cain and Abel and the Tower of Babel, you get the walking on the Sea of Galilee; with the various versions of the Bible is placed the water into wine at Cana; against the feeding of the thousands and raising of Lazarus are set the transfer of the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday and the centuries of life-span attributed to the patriarchs. The impression is of a quick-fire farrago that also includes flights of fancy like the location of the Garden of Eden in Tasmania, the survival through two bushfires of St. Raphael’s Church in Hobart, the distortion of Ezekiel’s name to Easy-Kill, American housewife Diana Duyser’s financial killing thanks to her infectious pareidolia, and the estimated worth of the Catholic Church in Australia.

Some of this is clever; a bit less is entertaining; other parts are jejune word-play and the poet’s delivery is a clever combination of the not-so-wide-eyed innocent – a knowing Candide – and clever-clever undergraduate or Mr. Bean smarm. Luckily, it’s all pretty short and your hackles don’t get much of a chance to rise . . . the first time around. Repeated exposure causes impatience, for me at least, and I find the puns just not that amusing; reminiscent of re-reading Wodehouse as opposed to Decline and Fall or Lucky Jim.

Then there’s the music. Here I’m all at sea also. Harvey twins his titles to those of von Caemmerer; for example, the poet goes off on a tangent named Cheesus, where he lists various cheeses of the world and the breads that they could suit, casting Jesus/God as The Big Cheese, while Harvey’s commentary is called Jesus Christ? All right: not very subtle. Later on, The Miracle of St. Raphael is counterweighted by Belief in miracles; a later juxtaposition comes more obviously in Conversion Disorder – From Saul to Paul set beside the composer’s more unpretentious Mixed-up Paul. Which is nice to see: everything is intellectually focused and radiating around specific points. But Harvey preserves his mysteries, playing his satire very close to his chest.

Despite the plethora of keyboards employed and the addition of percussion, the Catalogue retains much of its two-piano focus, showing traces of works in this new model. For me, the most striking resemblance is to do with the physicality of such a sound, like the insistent jubilation found in the last of the Visions de l’Amen, or the visceral pounding of the Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion; works with which the composer has history. But such comparisons take you only a short way towards Harvey’s creation. The first musical track, The Bible’s chaotic composition, is a welter for keyboards with plenty of percussion interleaving – cymbal crashes and marimbas among the mix. As for the keyboard element, this is bar after bar of double-octave/7ths semiquavers, the patterns pounding out simultaneously or at a short canon. There’s a relaxation into something close to swing before the opening hectic hammering returns. And its all over in 1’17”. The same pattern returns in the last musical track, Life after Biblical errancy, although more elaborate with the added element of massive rising and falling six-black-note arpeggiated chords in both hands disrupting the opening movement’s clarity, the whole sharing honours with a highly prominent percussive element.

The second Harvey track then moves into territory more directly related to jazz with an exploration of Jesus Christ? in 5/4 where the shades of Brubeck and Zappa brood over all with their bright wings. You get a same-but-different flavour in God’s Word where the initial time-signature oscillates between 13/16 and 11/16 with unsettling semiquaver rests in different keyboards at opposite ends of the bar and pertaining to different hands; all very disjunct but a cousin to the Mothers of Invention at their I’m-not-going-anywhere finest. Contradictions begins its deliberately disjunct path dominated by the electronic keyboards and moves towards normal piano sounds and back again, the performers not quite on the beat at a few stages; the effect is assertively querulous, if you like, or possibly just a brisk meander.

And on it goes – a series of bagatelles that rush past, complementing von Caemmerer’s texts in sprightliness and, like them, running through the ear and leaving not much of a wrack behind. Another separation of congruence arises by way of a delaying semiquaver rest, pages that suggest a kind of two-part invention that revisits its framework but piles on extra material. Even the various superimpositions impress as modified frenzies; striding crotchets against quaver triplets sounds harmless but here the interplay is close to impenetrable. A guitar-mimicking keyboard against a slow-moving regular base suggests Hendrix, but this is a simple interlude in a galaxy of rapid repeated block chords alternating between players, throwing you off balance by its carefully crafted irregularity.

You also encounter outbursts of juxtaposition, like the sudden burst of faux-Charleston that enters near the end of Bible characters, in the middle of a rigorous toccata. Or meet the ambling Gershwin-suggestive preamble to Injustice. Put alongside that the jerky pointillism of Science or creationism for which Boulez’s Structures could have been a progenitor. Or the pell-mell rush of Belief in miracles which again undermines expectations of toe-tapping predictability. Anti-Semitism, which moves with improbable rapidity and employs a suitably wide range of sound-sources, could have come straight from a contemporary jazz session, if only the performers had enjoyed an unshakeable sense of purpose. Then comes a track like Intolerance and anti-intellectualism which presents, at heart and like so many of these vignettes, as an elaboration on a rising scale (or note series) with a myriad of colours, some of which are definitely percussion while others could be keyboards with percussive capabilities. Whatever the outcome, the content is unabashedly clear and non-depressing.

Fake prophecies is a less frenetic construct up to about the 50″ mark of its 1’03” length; starting with a quiet murmuring complex, an increase in action bubbling below the surface before erupting into a vehement coda. An electronic siren precedes the pianos’ mixture in Predestination or free will, which enters its main frame with a kind of sophisticated rock rhythm, albeit one that is pure Harvey and complicated enough to scare off any mainstream band. Another side of the same coin emerges in Forty Bible errors which begins with a deadly predictable drum pulse that persists despite the fracturing that comes from the keyboards; there is an acceleration and a rapid dissolution-coda. Further juxtapositioning of opposites, Bible creation conflicts seems to have no set pulse at all, the atmosphere heavy on electronic keyboards with a guitar imitation leading the way in a tonal rhapsody; here the layering of sounds smacks of impressionism – a hazy oasis in a world of sharp edges.

We’re back to the virtuosic with Saturday or Sunday? bringing actual piano sounds into play across a typically chameleonic rhythmic sequence where syncopation rules. A reversion to tonality beguiles at the opening to Mixed-up Paul with a genial rising melody leading into at least two other layers that over-ride the initial placidity, both a restless bass and a sine-wave-type making for counterweights. With Fake Bible news, we’re in another all-man’s land where regular and dissimilar pile on top of each other; a snare-drum trying to impose a measurable metre is subjected to inroads on all sides including a cluster-rich ‘straight’ piano. Then Harvey returns to his atmospheric wash territory for Peter, Paul and Jesus conflicted in which a musing background texture is lit up by jagged piano bursts, mini-explosions in this ambience, all of them resurrecting memories of Stockhausen’s Klavierstucke as well as the could-go-anywhere blurts to be found in pretty much everything I’ve come across from Bussotti.

Throughout the Catalogue, Neville and his percussion colleagues have been a consistent presence, rising and receding over the music tracks – and the spoken ones – with so much authority and idiosyncratic speech that you realize how thorough was Harvey’s re-composition process. In Control by the elite, the percussion elements dominate, apart from a central unit where an electronic organ rushes through what could be taken for a fairly static chorale, all things being equal in this febrile musical world. And the penultimate musical statement, Other holy books, is a fast gallop with what sounds like a side drum and wood-blocks setting the pace while a piano main-line provides some linear interest, if barely touching the ground.

How you connect the compositions to their titles, let alone von Caemmerer’s words, is every listener’s private business. The musical execution is generally exact and consistently enthusiastic, even though it strikes me that the matter from some segments could be interchanged easily with others. Always an exhilarating ride, travelling with Harvey, and the tearaway excitement of many tracks here is well worth hearing. But the intention of the work as a whole remains hard to discern because the 50 tracks rush by so rapidly. The creators’ stance is probably anti-religious but their focus bounces all over the shop. Hence my impression that their product is a set of short satiric gasps rather than a solid assault; a catalogue, certainly, but one with pretty short entries.