The Strad Issue: May 2015
Description: Demonstrating the playful side of Michael Finnissy’s complexity
Musicians: Darragh Morgan (violin) Mary Dullea (piano) Michael Finnissy (additional keyboards)
Composer: Finnissy

In the first of this album’s radically inventive transformations of older material, Michael Finnissy shoots dissonance and violence into the veins of folk tunes from America’s Deep South. Mississippi Hornpipes (1982) is high on virtuosity, with the kind of double-stopping that says two things at the same time. The Hardanger fiddle history behind Seterjentens’ fridag (2003 – loosely translating from Norwegian as ‘Milkmaids’ Day Off’) is more rhapsodically phrased, and gently backed by both piano and chamber organ.

Paying saucy homage to the title’s 18th-century allusion to homosexual brothels, Molly House is a private little orgy of denatured Baroque gestures for violin, prepared keyboards and domestic appliances, which like other pieces here comes to an informal stop. With the composer’s useful booklet note to hand, it’s easy to hear how a generously Brahmsian dialectic lies behind the Violin Sonata (2007), which, despite its title, is no more abstract or less direct in communicative power than the previous pieces. Lines are cut up, phrases and ends cut short, and why isn’t often clear; but the questions soon lose force, and honour is obliquely paid to Brahms’s own complex relationship with his past masters.

Recorded up close, the performances by Darragh Morgan and Mary Dullea want for nothing in technical address, commitment and exhilaration. Best of all, they find the fun in Finnissy.