This enterprising disc
from Switzerland features two 20th
century classics alongside two uncompromisingly
modernist contemporary works. Everything
is well played and the recorded sound
is exemplary, so too the accompanying
much of this music (and the Stravinsky
and Lutosławski items too?)
is little known, it is important that
there should be sufficient supporting
information. The booklet is well planned
and the information is thorough, so
full marks on that front.
The composers Thomas
Kessler and Werner Bärtschi provide
the introductions to their own scores,
though what they don’t do is provide
information about themselves. As far
as the documentation is concerned, this
is the weakest link.
(Break Out) is deliberately
challenging and modernist, using five
samplers in addition to an orchestra
which requires players to exchange their
traditional positions on the platform.
In fact this insistence on positioning
is what the title attempts to indicate:
a new-found freedom for different instruments
and instrumentalists. However, even
with modern recording techniques, the
opportunities of really communicating
the significance of these subtleties
within the sound perspective are somewhat
limited, to say the least. Nor does
the musical material itself convey the
In addition to the
orchestral provision, there are five
musicians playing computers with linked
loudspeakers at points located throughout
the hall. These sounds have instrumental
timbres as well as amplified associative
noises, such as the breathing of the
players and the physical sounds of the
act of performing, such as bow on string.
It’s all very clever and all closely
related to the main idea. On CD, if
not in the concert hall perhaps, it
all adds up to rather less than the
sum of the parts.
The Grandeur of the Alps is preoccupied
with the perspectives of time. He explains:
‘The title offers a circle of expectations,
it is in itself a metaphor for the seemingly
timeless, dormant duration of time.
... The work contains no tone painting
as one might understand it from the
Alpine Symphony of Richard Strauss.’
The sounds Bärtschi
draws from his orchestra have abundant
interest, to be sure, with carefully
graded note values and dynamics, and
his sensitivity to the issue of the
passing of time and our perceptions
of time have a certain affinity with
John Cage. I am not so sure, however,
that the line of development is strong
enough to sustain a time-span (sic)
of more than fifteen minutes.
In the more conventional
fare of Stravinsky and Lutosławski,
the Basel Sinfonietta can better be
judged for their orchestral credentials.
They emerge well from the scrutiny,
as does their conductor, Joel Smirnoff.
Stravinsky’s Fireworks bristles,
really bristles, with rhythmic bite
and detail; no wonder this piece so
impressed itself upon the memory of
the impresario Diaghilev.
Concerto for Orchestra is
a more weighty challenge, and one that
is designed to give an orchestra the
opportunity to show what it can do.
The Basel orchestra emerges with the
utmost credit, in a colourful and lively
performance which is captured particularly
well in the balancing of the recorded
sound. More famous ensembles have recorded
this music, but this performance can
stand alongside the best of them.