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Muhly: I Drink the Air Before Me

by Andrew Clements, The Guardian.

With a disc of Nico Muhly’s choral works also out this month, Decca seems to have taken up the music of the 29-year-old composer in a big way. This CD is devoted to the ballet score commissioned by Stephen Petronio’s company and performed in March last year. Muhly’s own sleevenotes reveal that his brief was to include a children’s choir and that the subject matter should relate to extremes of weather, anxiety and living by the sea. The musical scheme he devised – 12 sections playing without a break and constructed around spiral sequences of pitches – is realised by a quirky six-piece ensemble, “a community of people living by the sea”, writes Muhly. There’s a “busybody flute, a wise viola, and the masculine, workmanlike bassoon, trombone and upright bass”; there’s a piano, too, an “agitator”, with its electronic and sampled sounds. None of this role-playing seems contrived or intrusive; it’s the sheer variety of the invention, and the soundworld created for it, that holds the attention, with its blend of Adams-inflected post-minimalism rock sonorities combined with Muhly’s own melodic gift. The kitschy use of the children’s choir, mercifully only in the first and last sections, is problematic, but the rest is thrilling.

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