MICHAEL EVANS – The Music of Erich Zann

American Contemporary composer Michael J Evans [born 1964] has written one string quartet. It is titled after a story by H P Lovecraft, The Music of Erich Zann. It is a long work, just over 70 minutes in length. In nine movements, the first eight are titled Scene 1-8, and the last, Epilogue. It is the second work I have discussed released that is released only on digital media, in MP3 format. Previously there were the quartets of Milton Babbitt, although they were also available in lossless, FLAC format.

Interestingly, Evans is considered to be part of a new style, Consonant Music, references to which can be found scattered throughout Google.

Given the length of the work, I am not going to consider all movements,

Scene 1: This brief movement features an extended solo cello statement, eventually to be joined by a violin. Dare I say it, this wonderful introduction is very consonant.

Scene 3: Again, opens with a solo cello, this time pizzicato in a walking jazz manner. The cello stops and a series of sustained violin tones sketch out a modal melody. A new section of quivering bows ensues and the violin returns to its former distinctive musings. Bird-like violin glissandos give way to a section of intimate pizzicato until the sound of two harmonised violins is heard. Now the ensemble create an insistent ostinato, which changes tonality at various times, allowing a violin to sketch out various lyrical melodies. A complete change in character has a solo violin set against a busy ensemble, but this does not last. Solo cello again heralds a change in mood before the quivering feeling returns and the violin expresses modally once more – this time with some dissonance – so much for Evans being part of Consonant Music. A return to the glissandos is effective and very evocative of bird calls. The violin now floats to the ground again, all the while there is quivering of bows in the background. The lamenting violin lets me down gently.

Scene 4: By far the longest movement fades in with another solo cello section. This is followed by an engaging sound which features a prominent violin and a sense of sadness. Now the quivering bows of Scene 3 are heard, sometimes this sound is the music. A solo violin passage is expansive, with intense use of double-stops, where the violin plays multiple strings together, somewhat reminiscent of Bach’s works for solo violin. This is an extended, virtuosic performance, with the violin traversing all registers as it cries out. Eventually, it is joined by drones from the ensemble – this music is very dark at times. The darkness recedes to reveal another section of the violin lamenting over sustained harmonies. To me, this movement has worn out its welcome, and at 16 minutes is proving to be an endurance test. It finally laments its way to a harmonised conclusion.

Scene 5: Opens with a violin trilling and the cello enters, this time played arco. A busy passage results, with lots of rhythmic possibilities – there are also some ethnic scales to be heard. This movement appears to be almost Classical in style, with lots of stately moments. The familiar sustained violin, lamenting over a bowed background is again heard. This is a lot more dissonant than Scene 4. The continued bowing fades to a conclusion.

Scene 6: Appears to be an exercise in string sound effects, there is very little music to be heard.

Scene 8: Another lamenting, slightly ethnic melody emerges over a drone accompaniment. There is a good deal of tension here. Towards the end, there is a sound that I haven’t encountered thus far, which slowly degenerates into a section of string sound effects, which fade out.

Epilogue: This brief concluding movement features machine-like sounds before moving into a now, somewhat hackneyed style. The composer obviously didn’t save his best for last as this is a forgettable movement.

How to sum this up? From my research, I was expecting some attractive music but, overall I was a bit bemused by this piece, although there were some quite appealing sections. For me, it is worth hearing, but once would be enough. A page where the composer discusses his own work can be found here. In his defence, I suspect that he doesn’t consider himself to be part of any Consonant Music movement, but others have placed him there.

The reviewed music, performed by the Sirius Quartet, on the Parma Recordings label is available from Amazon US as an MP3 download.

The work can be heard on Spotify, earsense and YouTube.

Listenability: Epic in scope, but ultimately disappointing to these ears.


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