from Christian Lindberg, there is probably no one as active
in commissioning and performing new works for the trombone
today as Barrie Webb. Certainly none is as active in maintaining
a commitment to the contemporary music scene in Romania. MPS have published a CD (MPSCD007)
devoted to Doina Rotaru’s compositions, featuring Webb as
Concertos’ sees Webb as the soloist throughout, in four works
that were written for him by leading compositional names in
Romania. Webb’s useful booklet note does much to offer short biographical
sketches of the composers, his own connections with them,
and some analysis of the works themselves.
four composers graduated from the Bucharest University of
Music, and all display the distinct influence of attending
the Darmstadt Internationale Ferienkurse für Neue Musik, not
in the 1950s when Boulez, Cage and co. were there, but the
late 1980s and early 1990s. The dominant influences then were
Brian Ferneyhough and Morton Feldman, along with figures like
the spectral composer Tristan Murail. The issues that these
composers raised are still the stuff of musical currency in
Romania, whereas the West has moved on somewhat.
Intended only as a comment on composition in Romania, it is perhaps a little refreshing that issues are deliberated at
a slower pace, though the avant-garde is catching up fast.
is no doubt that the disc benefits from the involvement of
two of the featured composers, Lerescu appears as a conductor
and Ioachimescu acted as sound engineer, in which role he
has been active for Romanian Radio since 1980.
captures the sound of each ensemble with something of an edge.
In itself this does something to emphasize any problems in
the ensemble or quality of playing. Over recent years Romanian
orchestras have raised in overall standard becoming more homogenized
in sound and losing a lot of their hard, ungiving tone, with
the strings retaining their famed edge and mercurial fluency.
If the brass and woodwinds have become more characterful,
the results are not yet what a western audience might be used
to. But still the sound is distinctive, which is more than
can be said for most western orchestras.
concerto is finely paced by Ovidiu Bălan, although for
the most part the two soloists develop their own line against
a minimal orchestral background. The opening monolithic tutti
however does set a rather dour scene, if not entirely ‘majestic’
as Webb suggests it could be. The work is largely spectrally-based
and proceeds through superimposition and paring down of material
until middle C and D remain along with a handful of harmonics.
Lerescu’s work, Side Show, is in the tradition of the
trombone as theatre performance; being comic, yet sad and
hiding a deeply felt seriousness. You might think, as I did,
of Berio’s Sequenza V. Movement and interaction come
through as you hear soloist move from left to right audio
channels, and seemingly leading the development of the music
in a quasi-improvisatory nature. In the end a drum theme,
present almost throughout, is given to the soloist – the trombonist
turns percussionist. Dissatisfaction with the instrument,
the material? Who knows, and frankly what does it matter?
Popovici’s work uses the ensemble to amplify and distort the
solo line, or as the composer says to produce “permanent feedback
(dialogue) of sounding information”. The first movement also
provides the material for the latter two that elongate and
fractalise the sound line. The imposition of mathematical
and geometrical concepts upon sound have long dominated Popovici’s
Danceanu’s concerto Şapte Zile (Seven Days)
takes the form of a suite, and outwardly is classical in structure.
The first five days / movements build upon one another, exploring
different techniques and timbres in the solo part often influenced
by synthesizer produced effects present throughout the work.
The sixth day / movement is a cadenza, and the seventh a kind
of summation, though not – to my ears – a resolution.
my little previous involvement with the sound world of these
composers (Popovici and Lerescu’s chamber works featured in
a single chamber music concert I attended in Bucharest last
spring), I do to a large extent have to take these performances
on trust that they achieve something close to the composers’
wishes. In terms of commitment they want for nothing, and
are to be recommended to those in search of distinctive if
sometimes unremitting voices that can reward attentive listening.