An interesting, small-scale example of Michael Finnissy‘s take on folk music is his re-thinking of the Northumbrian tune ‘A-lang Felton Lonnen’ (“a long Felton lane”). Finnissy places the traditional Northumbrian pipes alongside piano, viola and cello, all of which initially sound saturated by the harmony, contours and the tone of the tune, which stands out in the foreground. The piano offers similarly decorative counterpoint, weaving around the pipes, while the strings lay down slow-moving sustained notes, effecting a kind of extension of the pipes’ drones.
As things progress, Finnissy leans on the harmony, causing the piano and strings to drift out of orbit from the pipes, which are unable to follow due to their harmonic limitations; far from undermining the pipes, however, this has the effect of throwing them into an increasingly projected kind of relief, a lone soloist surrounded by strange clouds of chiaroscuro. Later still, Finnissy pulls back on the counterpoint, establishing a more introspective soundworld; the pianist withdraws, followed soon after by the pipes, leaving the two strings to trace a curious kind of stasis until they arrive at their own abrupt end.
It’s a beautiful little work, drenched in mystery and evocation. The world première was given at the 2011 Bath Festival by Kathryn Tickell (pipes), Joanna MacGregor (piano) and members of the Navarra Quartet.