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Mary FINSTERER (b. 1962)
CD1
Nextwave Fanfare (1992)a [3:09]
Nyx (1996)b [11:45]
Constans (1995)c [19:39]
Omaggio alla Pietà (1992)d [4:49]
Catch (1992)e [7:12]
Tract (1993)f [5:58]
Ruisselant (1991)g [13:53]
CD2
Sequi (2001)h [14:32]
Achos (1999)i [8:41]
Ether (1998)j [9:12]
Kurz (2000)k [3:18]
Pascal’s Sphere (2000)l [20:29]
Sleep (2002) [22:36]
Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Gunther Schuller (conductor)a; Pittsburgh New Music Ensembleb; Australian Art Orchestrac; The Song Company, Roland Peelman (conductor)d; Sydney Alpha Ensemblee; David Pereira (cello)f; Le Nouvel Ensemble Modernegil; Arditti String Quarteth; Geoffrey Collins (flute)j; Perihelionk
Recorded: no information, published 2004
ABC CLASSICS 476 176-0  [66:57 + 79:15]

 

 

Now in her early 40s, Mary Finsterer already has a considerable output to her credit. The present compilation of works written between 1991 and 2002 provides a sampling of her compositional achievement so far. Judging by what is to be heard here, her music brims with energy, invention and much aural imagination. It also displays considerable variety, which adds to the interest. Her music may sound brutal and restless at times; and I was not surprised to learn that she studied in Amsterdam with Louis Andriessen. This is clearly to be heard in the highly virtuosic Nyx (1996) written for the Dutch chamber ensemble Het Trio (Harrie Starreveld, Harry Sparnaay and René Eckard) that she got to know when in Amsterdam. It is also there in Constans (1995) written for the Australian Art Orchestra, an ensemble consisting mainly of skilled improvisers. Both pieces display a formidable energy, although I found Constans too long for its own good. To a certain extent, the short choral piece Omaggio alla Pietà for mixed chorus and percussion (uncredited in the notes and cover) and Catch for small ensemble are in same vein, redolent of Andriessen’s hard-edged sound-world. Omaggio alla Pietà is a splendid choral piece, a minor masterpiece, compact but full of energy and imagination. Catch is rather more straightforward and playful, at least by Finsterer’s standards.

Tract for solo cello is a brilliant, awfully demanding virtuosic showpiece exploiting the instrument’s full range, sometimes bringing so-called spectral music to mind; much of her music does this. The music spirals restlessly until it is abruptly brought to a stop.

Ruisselant, composed in 1991, is the earliest piece here. It is also what Richard Toop describes as Finsterer’s “breakthrough” piece. The title (Ruisselant, i.e. “flowing”, “streaming”) is rather misleading and should not be taken at face value. The music flows, but forcefully, with many sudden outbursts and with irresistible energy. It suggests magma flowing down a volcano’s slopes rather than gentle pastoral brooks. The music, however, displays Finsterer hallmarks: irrepressible vitality, instrumental virtuosity and formidable aural imagination, which – for the present writer – often brought Turnage and late Tippett, albeit spiced by Boulez, to mind.

Sequi for string quartet, superbly played by the Arditti String Quartet for whom it was written, is one of the most recent pieces recorded here. It is a substantial work in three continuous sections (another formal Finsterer hallmark), the title of which sums up the compositional procedure used; musical development continually evolves from one idea to the next (pace Richard Toop again, in his excellent and informative insert notes). Needless to say, the music fully exploits the celebrated virtuosity and commitment of its dedicatees to new, often complex music. However, the most important thing, as in that of some of the more recent pieces, is that it is much more goal-oriented than in, say, Nyx or Constans, which are  - on the whole – more fragmentary or episodic. This will be all the more evident in what I consider one of the finest works here, Pascal’s Sphere for ensemble and electronics. This is a mature, substantial work in which Finsterer’s imagination is evident from first to last. Before completing this major piece in 2000, Finsterer composed Achos for ensemble. At that time Achos bore the title of the later piece. While working on Pascal’s Sphere, the composer withdrew the earlier piece that Irvine Arditti had heard and liked. He was disappointed when he found that it had been withdrawn. Eventually, thanks to Arditti’s persuasion, the composer put the piece back in her catalogue, albeit with a new title Achos (i.e. “anticipation”). Although it may be regarded as a try-out for Pascal’s Sphere, it works satisfyingly on its own. Pascal’s Sphere, of course, refers to the French philosopher’s Pensées, but also to an essay by Borges. I hasten to say that I do not know either Pascal’s or Borges’ texts; and I do not think that such knowledge of these literary works really matters to appreciate Finsterer’s piece. However, a sentence from Pascal’s Pensées may serve as a guideline for the music. “The eternal silence of these infinite spaces strikes me with terror.” The addition of electronic soundscape to the ensemble considerably enhances the evocative strength of the music, which fully achieves what Varèse had been aiming at during his composing life. I am in no doubt about it, Pascal’s Sphere is a major work, and one that puts Finsterer firmly onto the present-day Australian musical map. A splendid piece.

The very title of Ether clearly tells us what to expect from this brilliant study for solo flute, in which – as in Tract – the composer explores the many possibilities of modern instrumental writing. This includes advanced playing techniques, but never gratuitously. There are some arresting echo effects (I wonder whether they are electronically processed or not), that suggest counterpoint and evoke the capricious character of air in an almost graphic manner. Successful but also demanding. Geoffrey Collins rises magnificently to the occasion.

Kurz for viola, clarinet, cello and piano is the only piece by Finsterer that I had ever heard before. True to its title, it is a short, fanciful piece that moves along capriciously, not without a pinch of salt.

The most recent piece is the electro-acoustic soundscape Sleep (2002) superbly engineered by Kimmo Vennonen. This beautiful Nocturne in all but the name is part of a multi-media happening involving video and projection by Dean Golja (the composer’s husband), a sculpture by Kate Murphy, and movement by Wendy Morrow and Trevor Patrick. I suppose that the full impact of the piece can only be achieved when seen and heard “in the flesh”. I am no particular fan of electro-acoustic music; but some pieces in that genre succeed in riveting my attention. Sleep is one of them, for it is tastefully made, and very successful in evoking “the idea of sleep as a time ... where the unconscious mind wanders through an undulating terrain of dreams and fragmented memories” (the composer’s words). It is attractive although – I suspect – a bit too long for some tastes. (Incidentally, it is the longest work here.) I was impressed by it.

I nearly forgot that this generously filled compilation from Mary Finsterer’s output opened brilliantly with her short, exuberant Nextwave Fanfare in which the music rushes headlong and relentlessly at great speed. It is all over in a little over three minutes!

These recorded performances come from various sources; and I suspect that a number of them are live recordings, but – if so – you hardly notice it. All the pieces are performed by musicians who have a long working association either with Finsterer’s music or with complex contemporary music. Judging by what is to be heard here, these readings are as committed and convincing as possible; and this wide-ranging compilation is the best possible introduction to her vital, highly personal sound-world. I look forward to hearing more of her music. An important release.

Hubert Culot

 

 

 



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