Alasdair Nicolson (born 1961) - Punch!

Recorded live on 19th October 2012. Duration 11 mins 22 secs

Alasdair Nicolson (born 1961)

Schoenberg, to accompany the vocalist in Pierrot lunaire, devised a mixed quintet consisting of two woodwind players (flautist and clarinettist), two string players (violinist and cellist) and a pianist, to which Peter Maxwell Davies, just over half a century later, added a percussionist. Hey presto, an ensemble was born, one that goes on ricocheting through contemporary music. Alasdair Nicolson wrote his piece for this grouping in 1994, to a commission from the St Magnus Festival in Orkney, and gave it a title we can read in at least two ways. Its vivid, even at times strident energy might suggest the puppet character, but this is also music that packs a punch.

Beginning with outbursts and alarm calls, all tightly controlled, the music soon has all the instruments jolting together, in chords cut with diamond precision. The next episode brings forward the violinist and the percussionist, joined by intermittent piano and fulltime cello as the texture begins to build towards a tutti climax. From here flute and clarinet start singing together, eventually joined by the strings, after which the piano has a solo. Then suddenly everyone is back. A mini-concerto for cello descends into muttering before the grand finale of ultimate exacerbated unanimity, not quite surviving to the end.

Programme note © Paul Griffiths

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