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Williams himself describes it as an 'unravelling process'. His musical ideas travel. Structure -- points of departure, destinations, and the journeys between the two - is organic rather than formal (but reinforced by strong directional tonalities), but it is the process that is the really interesting thing, for all that the ideas themselves are carefully characterised, carefully wrought. It feels like series of associative, referential relationships being gradually mapped out, gradually unravelled. The punctuation is tentative (this, like the associative process reminds me of Joyce, and there is an uncanny similarity also in the way both writer and composer revel in the resources of their respective languages). The cadences are often 'masked' (Williams' own word, and a particular stylistic fingerprint) [listen -- track 6, 1:57-2:13] and don't so much effect closures as stand for colons which in turn lead on to further perspectives, further vistas, further unravellings. They reveal new aspects of themselves as unsuspected epiphanies, or as craggy obstinacies in the mind and landscape, or as translated runes. Sometimes they reveal associative affinities with other music: Bach, Britten and Rachmaninov in the Solo Sonata; Edward MacDowell in the Cantilenes, Serbian Orthodox chant and the clanging of bells in the Spring Requiem [listen -- track 1, 12:58-13:54], but Williams is anything but a derivative composer. Perhaps it is just a trick of this particular selection of his music, but I find him most moving when he is most sad -- and there is a lot of poignant sadness here. And when some originally cheerful idea flits darkly over the surfaces of his 'lush harmonic field' (Williams' words again), fragile and mysterious and back-lit like a Bartokian moth, I find myself moved most of all [listen -- track 1, 9:24-9:58].

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Copyright © 4 November 2000 Peter Dale, Essex, UK

 

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