Lizzy Welsh: The Target Has Disappeared

Sunday 9 April 2023

The latest release on Discreet Editions comes from Australia. Don’t be fooled by the cover: The Target Has Disappeared features contemporary composers at the more provocative end of the spectrum, each with a work for solo baroque violin performed by Lizzy Welsh. Why baroque? “Gut strings are perfectly imperfect. They contain so much complexity that has been ironed out of sound through the modern use of steel.” The grain of the instrument’s voice, the violinists touch and intonation, are at the forefront of the three works here. Alexander Garsden’s Chaconne (for I) concentrates on fleeting arpeggios, breathy and skittish, gathered into phrases that fade in and out again like slow breathing. The simple structure of contrasting pulses draws out the tension in the material as it hovers between pitch and string noise. Samuel Smith’s archive is a longer piece which elaborates on these ideas, adding to the complexity of pitch by retuning the top string to an overtone (7th partial) of the bottom one. Harmonics abound, with the gut strings compounding the nominal purity of timbre. Welsh makes the most of the wide variety of attack and dynamics at play in this piece, creating a visceral sense of layering between counterposed voices, strongly differentiated by character and spatial presence.

All three works were composed for and premiered by Welsh, recorded here after several years of working with the composers and their music. The final work presented here adds sounds besides the violin. Natasha Anderson’s The Target has Disappeared is a reflection on personal loss that premiered with visual projections in 2018. In its present form, a short, simple melody is underpinned by electronic sounds which serve both as commentary and quiet obstruction to the soloist. By this means, the first half of the piece resembles a concerto, with the two forces often alternating instead of working together, keeping Welsh’s solo reticent and fragmentary. Instead of building, the piece reduces its means; in the second half the electronics have slipped away and Welsh holds long, single notes on the violin while softly singing. Voice and instrument are each gentle but raw, filling the supposedly inert material by being alive to its own vulnerability. Anderson’s electroacoustic compositions have been a bit scarce in commerically available recordings and I’m not aware of many pieces by Smith or Garsden floating around out there so this new release is most welcome.