MusicWeb International One of the most grown-up review sites around 2024
60,000 reviews
... and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here Acte Prealable Polish CDs

Presto Music CD retailer
Founder: Len Mullenger                                    Editor in Chief:John Quinn             


MGB Records (Migros-Genossenschafts-Bund)

Ensemble Contrechamps
Brian FERNEYHOUGH (b. 1943)

Carceri d’Invenzione I (1982)a
Hans Ulrich LEHMANN (b. 1931)

Book of Songs (1998/9)b
De-qing WEN (b. 1958)

Piping and Drumming (2000)c
Xavier DAYER (b. 1972)

J’étais l’heure qui doit me rendre pur... (1997)d
Elliott CARTER (b. 1908)

Asko Concerto (1999/2000)e
Ensemble Contrechamps
Johannes Schmidt (baritone)b; Alberto Guerra (bassoon)d; Nieuw Ensemblea; Ensemble Contrechamps; Jurjen Hempela, Olivier Cuendetc, Laurent Gayd, Heinz Holligere
Recorded: Radio Suisse Romande-Espace 2 and Schweizer Radio DRS2, Geneva, March 1999 (Ferneyhough); Tonhall Zürich, November 1999 (Lehmann); Geneva, April 2000 (Wen); Geneva, March 1998 (Dayer) and Luzern, August 2001 (Carter)
MGB CTS-M 82 [62:58]

Error processing SSI file

Contrary to most other releases in MGB’s Musiques Suisses series, this one is centred on the performers, i.e. the Ensemble Contrechamps, although it nevertheless includes two works by Swiss composers (Lehmann and Dayer) and one piece by a Chinese-born composer, now resident in Geneva (Wen). It also provides for a fair appreciation of the repertoire brilliantly championed by the Ensemble Contrechamps that is now rightly regarded as one of the foremost exponents of modern music.

Elliott Carter is really the Grand Old Man here and is represented by one of his recent works, Asko Concerto, completed in 2000 and written on a commission from the renowned Dutch ensemble Asko. It is a typical product of Carter’s musical Indian Summer. It is as tightly written as anything else in Carter’s output, but the composer’s mastery is now such that one completely forgets about the complexity of the work and is simply taken by the sheer invention and hard-won accessibility of the music. The work is a single movement structure consisting of several sections played without a break : Tutti, trio (oboe, viola and horn), duo (clarinet and double bass), tutti, trio (bass clarinet, trombone and cello), duo (trumpet and violin), quintet (piccolo, celesta, xylophone, harp and violin), epilogue (tutti). Carter’s instrumental mastery shines throughout the whole piece, with many inventive episodes exploiting the instruments’ resources to the full. If you know Carter’s Clarinet Concerto or Oboe Quartet, you will have no problem whatsoever with this extrovert, virtuoso piece.

At the other end of the ladder, Brian Ferneyhough’s music is technically complex and very demanding, pitilessly taxing the players. I once read an interview of Ferneyhough in which he actually described his scores as blue prints of what the performers should try to achieve without ever necessarily completely achieving it. Needless to say that, in the meantime, players have been able to master the music’s complexities and are now able to perform it in a near-ideal manner. The remarkable thing, however, about Ferneyhough’s music is that it is quite possible to respond to it unreservedly because of its sheer inventive power and its extraordinary rhythmic vitality. You may not necessarily know what is going around in, say, Transit for chorus and orchestra, but you cannot but be hooked by the impact of the music. His cycle (for lack of a more appropriate term) Carceri d’Invenzione, composed between 1981 and 1986, is a series of seven separate pieces for various instrumental forces : Supercriptio (solo piccolo), Carceri I (chamber orchestra), Intermedio alla ciaccona (solo violin), Carceri II (a short flute concerto), Etudes transcendantales (soprano and 4 players), Carceri III (chamber ensemble) and Mnemosyme (bass flute and pre-recorded tape).

Lehmann had already set some of Cummings’ verse (in Canticum I and II [1981] and in Ut signaculum [1991/2]) before completing his Book of Songs for bass, flute, cello and percussion heard here. For the present setting, he chose varied and contrasted poems from Cummings’ output that he tried "to translate" into his own sound world. Some of these poems, e.g. If the lovestar grows most big (No.2) and the concluding Finis, are fairly traditional, i.e. by Cummings’ standards; and their settings are – appropriately enough – fairly straightforward, i.e. by Lehmann’s standards. The other are somewhat more experimental, and their settings accordingly more radical or exploratory. Book of Songs, however, is a very fine work in its own right in which the composer displays a considerable aural imagination.

Chinese-born but now resident in Geneva, Wen does try to reconcile Western and Eastern musical tradition into a work that partly draws on some Chinese tradition connected to ceremonies during which the music is played by a wind band with percussion (Piping and Drumming as the title of the piece heard here has it). In this short, brilliant and often impressive piece, players sometimes have to vocalise on short rhythmic formulas, thus stressing the emphasis overtly laid on rhythm. The music is quite colourful and contrasted ("the sweetness of the Yin and the strength of the Yang, to quote the composer’s words).

Dayer’s J’étais l’heure qui doit me rendre pur... is a short concerto for bassoon and small wind ensemble, roughly cast as a somewhat mysterious Nocturne in which some fugitive visions briefly disrupt the soloist’s reverie. Another fine work.

These performances recorded in various settings and at various times are excellent, well prepared and committed, whereas the recorded sound is generally very fine throughout. All in all, a fine release brilliantly demonstrating the ensemble’s excellent playing and perfectly illustrating its wide-ranging contemporary repertoire.

Hubert Culot

Error processing SSI file

Return to Index

Error processing SSI file