‘Traces Remain has a sort of ferocious nostalgia that breaks through any artifice... it feels like a real journey.’ The Times
2(II=picc).afl.2.ca.2.2bcl.cbcl.ssax.2 – 4.2.fl.hn.3.1 – timp – perc(3): vib/glsp/t.bells/8 tuned gongs/5 bell plates/cyms/susp.cym/sizz.cym/hi-hat/newspaper/6 tom-toms/2BD/tam-t – harp – pno(=cel) – 10(vln I).10(vln II).10(vln III).10(vla).10(vlc).6(db)
The title is taken from a recent book by Charles Nicholl, a collection of essays each based on some remnant of former times that has not yet told its full story, some vestige that can offer - in words from Nicholl's preface that Colin Matthews takes as his motto for the piece - 'the sudden presence, the glimpse behind the curtain, the episode measured in minutes and preserved across the centuries’.
One example is a song by the Jacobean lutenist-songwriter Robert Johnson, 'Woods, rocks and mountains’, which may be all that remains of Shakespeare's Don Quixote play Cardenio. This, Matthews says, 'lies behind the whole piece, but drifting in and out of it are other fragments', of works either lost (Schoenberg's 1912 orchestration of Beethoven's Adelaide) or left incomplete (music that might belong to Sibelius's Eighth Symphony, an unused sketch for Mahler's Tenth). Some of these broken threads may be recognisable, others not, but their original identities are less important than their presence here, with us in the work we hear, arising and dissolving within a new context that is made for them - a context, rather, they help make.
Playing for around 20 minutes without a break, the piece is in three broad sections, slow-fast-slow, the central part quite short. A brief slow introduction begins with suddenness, followed by a quick falling gesture in the bass that will recur often in different forms, and that we might imagine as the brushstrokes of time sweeping through the litter of the past. Further brushstrokes bring in a first melodic breath from the soprano saxophone, shadowed by violins, and then the arrival of faster music, soft and light, in even quavers rapidly running through different metres, while behind and through them other ideas are germinating. The quavers come to a slow-trill standstill, then recommence more forcefully, leading to a strong sway of tonal harmony, after which comes a recollection of the opening, more rushing for a short while, and a deceleration into the second part.
Strings whisper a way into an Andante, hardly a minute long, where one trace comes into focus. Beneath it, though, is an urge to move on, and this soon takes over, pressing towards a vigorous melody from cellos with wind doubling. Racing movement alternates with more from this theme on strings, and introduces further memories before the music dissolves. Another brushstroke brings in the third section, with slow music from a delicate chiming ensemble of harp, piano and tuned metal percussion with timpani, veiled in harmony from the rest of the orchestra and, for the first time, sustained melody. The brushstrokes return and return, and with them more traces, while the chime group keeps coming back, until the music closes as it began.
Paul Griffiths (Please contact the writer for permission to reprint)
‘An intriguing and at times moving evocation of the way the past lingers into the present in odd, unexpected corners...’
The Telegraph (Ivan Hewett), 9 January 2014
‘Traces Remain has a sort of ferocious nostalgia that breaks through any artifice. The chewy orchestration is one engrossing… As the piece gropes for resolution, via spectres of Mahler, Sibelius, and, especially, the soothing baroque cadences of a Jacobean lute song, it feels like a real journey and not a wild ghost chase.’
The Times (Neil Fisher), 10 January 2014
‘Tantalisingly elusive, eerie and atmospheric.’
Classical Source, 8 January 2014
‘Traces Remain evoked dreams and memories, sometimes soothing and sometimes startling.’
Bachtrack (Frank Kuznik), 27 May 2016