Fantasy Studies: Petra Stump-Linshalm: CD

This review was published on: January 27th 2019

Fantasy Studies, by the Austrian clarinettist Petra Stump-Linshalm, is an album of new music for winds and cello, with the clarinet family as focal point. Stump-Linshalm is an established performer but a relatively new composer – as she puts it: ‘At some point I began to wonder how my own music might sound’. Clarinets play a major role, ‘for one thing because they are my constant companions and for another because they possess a surprising range of possibilities’.

Six works are presented: Uisge Beatha – A Guide to Flavours for solo contrabass clarinet (2015); Wändelesen for alto flute, bass clarinet and cello (2016-17); Cinnamon Roses for two clarinets (2018); Blanda for two tenor recorders (2016); Trotzig for three bass clarinets (2013); and Fantasy Studies for flute (piccolo and alto), clarinet (E flat and bass), soprano sax, recorder (soprano, tenor, bass recorder) and cello (2017). Uisge Beatha and Fantasy Studies are the major, substantive works.

Perhaps most revelatory is Uisge Beatha. Make no mistake – this is a record from the coalface of new music, and as such avoids anything as cliché as ‘conventional’ melody or harmony. Nevertheless, there is something profoundly communicative in this eight-movement work, which showcases the solo contrabass clarinet more idiomatically than I have heard before. Multiphonics, key percussion, squawks, howls and grunts are all used, but in a way that reveals the essence of the instrument rather than serving as a tick list of contemporary effects. If you’ve ever wondered whether the contra was truly a multi-faceted instrument in its own right, I’d suggest listening to this. The movement titles – for example ‘delicate spice and a whiff of smoke’ and ‘nutty undertones’ add pleasingly to the effect and suggest a roundly conceived musical world.

Fantasy Studies, the title work, is an ensemble piece featuring an array of co-performers whose names can be found on Stump-Linshalm’s easily googleable website. It has seven movements, mostly shorter than those of Uisge Beatha. It is pleasing to hear recorders in the mix, together with cello. The movements seem to evolve out of each other, with the texture subtly growing and complexifying as the work unfolds. All parts are immaculately performed. To me this is thoughtful, texture-led contemporary music – perhaps not as striking as Uisge Beatha but certainly a contender in its class.

The other four works are single movement ‘atmospheres’, often light and enigmatic and for me conjuring images of nature – perhaps a forest floor or a misty glade. Soft soundsare used extensively and unapologetically, demanding close attention. Trotzig is an exception, offering sharper contrasts and a greater variety of textures, presumably arising from its scoring of three colourful bass clarinets.

I must confess that I am not a close follower of new music, due to a lack of time rather than any particular prejudice, but this is an album that I’ve come back to repeatedly and shared with others. Indeed, I am soon expecting Spotify, which happily carries it, to add it to my ‘daily rotation’. I have often had complicated feelings about new music and its tendency to invoke tangled-up cerebral responses in me, but this record is different: the cerebral and the visceral are artfully combined, and the mystery of the music yields more with every listen. Recommended. Turn to page 52 for a profile of Stump-Linshalm.

Chris Walters

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The Clarinet and Saxophone Society of Great Britain is a company limited by guarantee registered in England No. 3010228, whose registered office is at Flat 51, Parkview Apartments, 122 Chrisp Street, London, E14 6ET. Email: membership(@) Tel: 01642 769 558

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