Martyn Bates
Chamber Music II
(Sub Rosa SR91, Jan 5 1996, Cd)

Review 1

by Stewart Mason (allmusic)

Released barely four months after Chamber Music, Vol. 1, this 27-track follow-up completes the song cycle, putting half of James Joyce’s 1902 chapbook Chamber Music into a cappella musical settings. Where Vol. 1 had occasionally colored the pieces with ambient keyboards and acoustic instruments, Chamber Music, Vol. 2 is a strictly voice-only affair, the most purely minimalist recording of Bates’ entire career. As before, Bates sets Joyce’s poetry into melodies taken (often piecemeal) from British and Irish folk tradition, a canny idea that helps to reveal the influence of popular ballad singing on the Irish author’s idiosyncratic but surprisingly traditional sense of meter. Often, musical settings of poetry sound forced and awkward; these 27 miniatures sound like Joyce had written these poems to these melodies, and the results are far more natural sounding than is usually the case with this kind of experiment. Bates would experiment further with both folk music and poetry for the next several years, but the two volumes of Chamber Music are the pinnacle of his explorations