Sunday, December 31, 2006

Composed thoughts

During 2006 I invested a considerable amount of time and money investigating areas of modern composition in more depth than I ever have in the past. Whilst I have long had an interest in Feldman, Cage, Lachenmann and several others, over the last year I have dug deep into the back catalogue of an ever growing list of composers, slowly feeding an ever hungry appetite for new musical experiences. Here are some of the CDs I have enjoyed the most;

Luigi Nono
Many many albums, but in particular I have purchased five different versions of La lontananza nostalgica utopica futura for vioin and tape. Its hard to choose a favourite, the original Deutsche Gramophon version with Gideon Kremer’s violin is probably the one held in highest regard, and it is truly wonderful, though I also think the Clemens Merkel version on Wandelweiser and Irvine Arditti’s recording for Montaigne are equally strong.

Max Neuhaus
Not a composer (at least I don’t think so) but a percussionist and electronics pioneer that produced some amazing work in the ‘60s performing a relatively small canon of works by the likes of Feldman, Cage, Stockhausen and Brown. His Nine Realisations of the New York School (Alga Marghen) was one of the most played CDs at Pinnell Towers this last year, a wonderfully sensual and skilled set of works. Other favourites have been his Electronics and Percussion on Sony Japan and Four Realisations of Stockhausen’s Zyklus again on Alga Marghen.

Klaus Lang
A German composer with very little work out there on CD. Three solo compositions to be precise plus a duo work with Werner Dafeldecker. The three solos are all very powerful pieces, two of which have been released on Robert Zank’s rather fine Editions RZ label, the heart-stoppingly beautiful Trauermusiken (Mourning Music) for viola and Sei-Jaku for string quartet, played by the Ardittis. These two are quite different works in many ways, yet also share an intense concern for the quality of notes played, an incredible restraint to the composition and an unswerving focus on sheer simplistic beauty. The third solo on Durian, Die ├╝berwinterung der mollusken is I believe out of print these days and is therefore hard to find, but is well worth picking up if you stumble upon a copy as it inhabits just as good though slightly different ground to the two RZ releases.

James Tenney
Unfortunately Tenney passed away in 2006, and only a few months after I had discovered his music. I first picked up the HatART release Pika-Don for percussion ensemble following an unusual recommendation from Brian Marley, who proclaimed it the best thing he’d heard in months. High praise from a man that until very recently worked in a record shop and spends most of his time listening to dub reggae. ☺ Pika-Don Is indeed very good, though I have since come to prefer his other Hat release The solo works for percussion performed by Matthias Kaul that includes the very wonderful Koan: having never written a note for percussion a 1971 work for solo tam tam that predates Mark Wastell’s fine output by three decades. My investigations into Tenney’s earlier work for electronics have been less rewarding, though have been interesting from a historical point of view.

Giacinto Scelsi
My journey down the road of fully understanding Scelsi’s work is a new one, as I have only half a dozen or so CDs purchased and digested so far, but of the ex-serialist’s work my favourite piece so far has to be Natura Renovatur for string ensemble, with the version by the Klangforum Wien and Hans Zender on Kairos my favorite ahead of the recent ECM recording by the Munich Chamber Orchestra.

Eliane Radigue – Kyema, Intermediate States (XI)
I have adored Radigue’s music for many years, but this 1990 release of Kyema on Phill Niblock’s XI label has long avoided me, and I assumed it was out of print and only likely to turn up on eBay. Imagine my surprise then when I found single copies lurking in two different New York record shops in one afternoon last September. What’s more it’s a wonderful piece of music, an hour long study in drones and shifting chimes electronically pieced together by Radigue back in 1988. For me this is up there with Adnos I-IV as being amongst the best of Radigue’s work, a beautifully focussed and structured recording that I have used on more than one occasion in recent months to soothe the stress away after a tough day.

The Wandelweiser Group and label
Much maligned in certain circles for their continued exploration of Cagean ideas regarding silence in music, the Wandelweiser collective of composers and musicians have been creating and releasing music on their own label since 1992 with almost forty albums now available. Two out of every three Edition Wandelweiser releases are well worth owning to my ears, with a few of their releases absolutely essential. Along with the great Nono release mentioned above the following releases have all had heavy rotation here over the last twelve months (though unless you turn the volume right up sometimes you just don’t notice!)
Christian Wolff – Stones (Wandelweiser Komponisten Ensemble)
John Cage – Cartridge Music (Daswirdas Ensemble)
John Cage – Branches (Daswirdas Ensemble)
Burkhard Schlothauer – Arbregisterieren (Eva-Maria houber, Organ)
Eva-Maria Houben – Dazwischen / immer anders
Tim Parkinson – cello Piece (Stefan Thut, violoncello)
Radu Malfatti – Die temperatur der bedeutung
Jurg Frey - Klaviermusik 1978-2001 (John McAlpine, piano)
Burkhard Schlothauer – ChamberEvents

Horatio Radelescu
A composer I am intrigued and impressed by so far but a long way to go with his music. The immensely complex Streichquartett nr.4 opus 33 on RZ is a fantastic work that reveals something new with every listen, just as its composition and performance (by the Arditti String Quartet) is an immense undertaking, developing Radelescu’s interesting ‘spectral’ music, the piece is a real challenge to listen to, particularly after spending some time with the sleeve notes makes you completely rethink your approach to listening to the CD!
I have recently acquired the new SubRosa release of his Intimate Rituals for viola(s), though have not yet got around to spending any time with it.

So just some of the areas I’ve been digging into, and hope to hear more of in 2007. Recommendations for further listening always gratefully received.

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