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Julian ANDERSON (b. 1967)
Eden (2005)a [7:26]
Imagin’d Corners (2001/2)b [10:13]
Four American Choruses (2002/3)c [18:12]
Symphony (2003)d [18:02]
Book of Hours (2004)e [24:11]
City of Birmingham Symphony Chorus/Simon Halseyc; City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra/Martyn Brabbinsa /Sakari Oramobd; Birmingham Contemporary Music Group/Oliver Knussene
rec. (live) Cheltenham Town Hall, July 2005 (Eden); Symphony Hall, Birmingham, January 2006 (Imagin’d Corners) and December 2003 (Symphony); Hawksyard Priory, Lichfield, November 2005 (Four American Choruses) and RNCM, Manchester, January 2005 (Book of Hours)
NMC D121 [79:52]
 


The ink of Anne Ozorio’s excellent review of the all-Anderson Ondine release (ODE 1012-2 - see review) is hardly dry; and, lo! here comes another generously filled disc entirely devoted to Anderson’s recent music. It thus considerably broadens ones appreciation of this still-young composer’s substantial achievement. Indeed, all the works here were written when Anderson was Composer-in-Association to the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra between 2001 and 2005. Significantly, too, they were composed not only for the Birmingham orchestra, but also for its satellites, the CBSO Chorus and the BCMG.
 
In its aims and means, Imagin’d Corners for five horns and orchestra has much in common with Turnage’s Four-Horned Fandango, although the latter is lighter in mood. Four of the five soloists move around the audience and the orchestra, so that the overall perspective is constantly changing. The various facets of the horns’ register greatly add to the ever-changing whole, to great colouristic and expressive effect. Consciously or not, Anderson also seems to pay tribute to Tippett, something that I also heard in some of the other pieces here.
 
Eden opens with an arresting gesture: a slow melody passed between solo viola and solo cello, playing without vibrato, evoking the sound of Renaissance viols. The orchestra soon takes over with powerfully evocative bell-like phrases; but the viola and cello music of the opening keeps reappearing at various stages, albeit with variations. However, the global impression is festive, brightly optimistic, although the music eventually fades away calmly.
 
Four American Choruses sets gospel hymn texts; but one should not expect a comparatively light-hearted treatment in the vein of Tippett’s Five Negro Spirituals. Anderson sets the texts in his own personal, intensely serious way without using, let alone alluding to, existing hymn tunes; far from it. The music is complex, exacting and clearly tailored to the skills of a crack ensemble. The CBSO Chorus rise magnificently to the occasion; and their thoroughly drilled, clearly articulated and immaculate rendering is simply stunning. For all its complexity the music is strongly expressive; and I consider this marvellous work as one of the finest – if not the finest – in this selection.
 
Anderson’s Symphony draws on a painting by the Finnish artist and Sibelius’ friend Akseli Gallen-Kallela who was much inspired by the Kalevala. True the very opening of the work with its indeterminate sounds almost graphically depicts pieces of ice drifting on the water’s surface. However, as it unfolds, the music continuously suggests what John Fallas aptly describes as the “initial sense of movement-within-stasis”; and turns out to be more closely argued and integrated than it might have seemed at first. In fact, Anderson’s Symphony is a mighty monolith blending tightly knit and powerfully evocative music.
 
The title of Book of Hours for ensemble and electronics refers to the famous Les très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry and the La Dame à la Licorne tapestries, although the music is by no means descriptive or programmatic. The composer suggests that Part One is concerned with time and Part Two with memory; and both are accordingly based on much the same material, albeit viewed from different angles. Part One opens with an utterly simple gesture: the first four notes of the major scale - actually derived from a piano piece Old Bells - continuously varied and expanded again often suggesting bell-ringing. Part Two opens with the same gesture, albeit completely blurred as if played on an old crackling 78 rpm disc. The music builds up to a climax that “pushes the music to breaking point” and explodes in a furious electronic cadenza in which the argument seems to disintegrate. The music, however, rests on a short dance-like coda. In his excellent notes, John Fallas writes that the second part is more continuous than the first. I do not entirely agree and find that – for all its kaleidoscopic character – Part One is on the whole much more satisfying. However, I readily admit that repeated hearings may prove me wrong in this respect. Book of Hours is an impressive and often beautiful piece, although it is slightly disappointing. Maybe I was expecting too much from a piece for ensemble and electronic, a medium I am much attracted to. Indeed, electronics are used with much discretion, taste and efficiency in Part One, but I am less convinced by their use in Part Two. Anyway, this is a substantial piece to which I will return.
 
A splendid release on all counts: excellent performances, very fine recording and detailed notes, and – most importantly – marvellous music.
 
Anderson’s music is contemporary music of the sort dear to me: complex and demanding, but ultimately often beautiful and strongly expressive. Not to be missed.
 
Hubert Culot


see also review by Anne Ozorio
 

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