Edmund Finnis and the Manchester Collective: Shades

Music with a fragile, utterly unique atmosphere

I first came across the music of Edmund Finnis (born 1984) at a concert given by the group here, the Manchester Collective: his 2013 piece Sister was included in a concert entitled 100 Demons, and I wrote the following about Sister:

... inspired by Bach’s Two-Part Inventions and by the reflection of light and water, it is gorgeously delicate, petering out into silence before revivifying itself; perhaps the effect is of one four-and-a-half minute question mark

Here's a performance of that piece given in 2018 by violinist Rakhi Singh and cellist Joe Zeitlin:

That sense of delicacy continues in the present, all-Finnis disc, comprising Finis' String Quartets Nos. 1 and 2. There is a sense of restful post-minimalism about this music, handled with impeccable skill by both composer and executants. Written in 2021, the String Quartet No. 2 was premiered by the Manchester Collective at Spitalfields, London, in July 2021.

The use of near-unison statements, just shifted slightly, in the second movement is mightily effective, putting the surrounding sound tapestries into relief:

The static beauty of the third movement also appears to be characteristic Finnis. The music seems to float (similar in intent, perhaps, to another of his pieces, The Centre is Everywhere):

The First Quartet is subtitled "Aloysius" and was permiered in 2018 by the Minetti Quartet. Here is the composer's own programme note:

This quartet is in five movements. While composing the piece I had in my mind: the shape of a valley; the image of clouds forming and dissipating; lines becoming interwoven and energy being passed around between four individuals; a sense of sounds breathing.
The fourth movement is a reflection on the hymn ‘Christe, qui lux es et dies’ by William Byrd.
String Quartet No.1 – ‘Aloysius’ was co-commissioned by Alois Lageder and Aldeburgh Festival, and is dedicated to the Lageder family.
© Edmund Finnis

We can certainly hear the interweaving lines and of textures forming and dissipating in the first movement:

... while there is a snese of the passing of fragments - almost Medieval hocketing - in the second movement, the nature of the lines inviting in, perhaps, an upper melodic line which at times seems to wish to creep in:

The Byrd piece in question for the fourth movement (out of five) is this:

and here is how Finnis refracts this into his world:

The impassioned song of the finale is remarkable, not least for its close (I won't spoil it):

As the above excerpts show, the performances by members of the Manchester Collective (Donald Grant, Caroline Pether and Rakhi Singh, violins; Hélène Clément, Ruth Gibson, violas; Nick Trygstad, cello) are of the excellence we have come to expect. The recording, made in Manchester's Stoller Hall, is superb: slightly dry (but only slightly), it allows all details to speak while mantaining the fragile, utterly unique atmosphere of these works.

Shades Finnis