Tom Johnson’s Rational Melodies had been released twice already in the past, both times featuring a solo instrumentalist (flutist Eberhard Blum and clarinettist Roger Heaton respectively). This edition constitutes the first recorded version of the piece performed by a chamber group, for the occasion France’s Dedalus. The painstaking study of the material and the zeal shown in tackling it caused an encouraging response from the composer, according to whom “the interpreters have added so much insight to the music that the music itself has grown”. Saying that after 28 years from the initial sketching means a lot, but Johnson is quite right. Although the work is incontrovertibly influenced by his typically minimalist mathematic designs, different stylistic factors and a sense of dry humour are astutely brought to the fore by the performers.
It’s difficult to trace elegiac tints or emotional resonance in a score that consists of reiterated straightforward figurations, only altered by adding or subtracting notes, shifting the pauses and challenging the instrumentalists with the juxtaposition of diverse metrical sequences. Dedalus execute all of the above with a mix of technically superior acuity and visible paradox: one can’t help but think about Sylvester the Cat tiptoeing behind a wall as cyclical string pizzicatos distinguish certain sections, and some of the chromatically melodic passages might be useful for an Arabian parody. The way in which the events – and absences thereof – are calculated to succeed allows each movement to engrave the memory enough for a transient positive reception. Yet what ultimately lingers on is the sonic core of a conception which still sounds strikingly effective, perfectly in line with this man ‘s musical interests over several decades.