New Chamber Music from Finola Merivale


Finola Merivale: Tus Desdemona Ensemble New Focus Recordings FCR 327 Total Time: 63:16 Recording: ****/**** Performance: ****/****


Finola Merivale studies composition at Columbia University where she is a DMA candidate as of this review. Tus is a new release of world-premiere recordings of her chamber music. It is performed by members of the Desdemona Ensemble.

The pieces are not arranged chronologically, but they do give the listener a sense of Merivale’s more experimental compositional approaches. The opening string trio, Do You Hear Me Know(2018), features a swirling motive that serves to drive the music forward but along the way, these get morphed into muted sounds and effects that struggle to recover and burst forth again. It creates a sort of nervous energy and tension against the stark textures and often dissonant harmonic clusters of sound. This work gives the listener as sense of the soundworlds Merivale inhabits in her music.


There are two works here from early in Merivale’s output (2013). The first of these is a work for electronics and violin. Arbores Erimus invites the soloist to improvise their own ideas about what music is written on the page. The approach creates a different sort of intimacy for performer and audience that may be less effective in this format but provides an interesting window into Merivale’s experimental aesthetic. There is some stunning lyrical writing that comes to the fore at its center as these other elements swirl about. The single movement work, The Language of the Mountain is Rain, for string quartet is an early experiment in quotation and fragmentation with Irish melodies used as the basis for the abstract music that results.


At the center are two works from 2020. The first of these, Release, is for violin and piano. Intense ideas are used to shift through a variety of emotional outbursts that even a quiet piano interlude cannot contain. The Silent Sweep as You Stand Still is a work for violin and cello in which Merivale explores the use of silence and space. The quieter moments have a poignant quality that has an added emotional quality when dissonance increases.


Tus is an intense album of experimental chamber music that creates a variety of intriguing sounds and effects with a core emotional quality that adds to the dramatic shape of the music. The performances here are all from musicians well-acquainted with her music who tackle these difficult pieces with confidence.

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