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Julian ANDERSON (b. 1967)
BOOK of HOURS
Eden (2005) [7:26], Imaginíd Corners (2001) [10:13]; Four American Choruses (2003) [16:12]; Symphony (2003) [18:02]; Book of Hours* (2004) [24:11]
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, City of Birmingham Symphony Chorus, *Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, Conductors and recording dates (in order) Martyn Brabbins, Cheltenham July 2005, Sakari Oramo, Birmingham, January 2005, Simon Halsey, Lichfield, November 2005, Sakari Oramo, Birmingham, December 2003 Oliver Knussen, RNCM, Manchester, January 2005.
NMC NMC D121 [76:04]

 

For years, thereís no major recording of Julian Andersonís work, and then, in the space of a few weeks, thereís two! They complement each other well. The first, Alhambra Fantasy (review) featured earlier works. This new recording, from new music specialists NMC, offers more recent works. Together, they provide a good perspective on the work of one of the more exciting young British composers.

Eden was inspired by Brancusiís sculpture ĎThe Kissí, where two solid figures become one monolithic whole through their kiss. Itís obviously not a literal representation. In this music, viola and cello curl sensuously around each other, embracing, so to speak, in melody. The spirit is passionate, yet austere and simple, as clean as the lines of Brancusiís style. As the orchestra takes over, the melody expands into something much more open and primeval. Andersonís use of "medieval" references evokes the timeless imagery of ancient sculpture. He uses "hockets", melodies shared out between two or more instruments, which create a fluid sense of movement. It evokes thoughts of medieval part-song, as well as of the pealing of bells. The unsteady timbre of non-tempered tuning adds to the sense of strange unworldliness. This is the spirit of Brancusiís sculpture, far better intuited in this abstract way. It also evokes the spirit of Eden in the Bible, of a moment of purity captured forever in some ancient carving. Anderson marked the score with the words "come una musica virginale".

From a transcendentalist sculptor to a transcendentalist poet, Anderson moves from Brancusi to Donne. The title references John Donneís poem
"At the round earths imagin'd corners, blow
Your trumpets, Angells, and arise, arise
From death, you numberlesse infinities
Of soulesÖ..
",

Anderson further explores the potential of non-tempered tuning in Imaginíd Corners, for five horns and orchestra. Played without valves, the horns make a more "natural" sounding intonation, more like early music. At once this music verges on modern atonality while connecting to a more ancient tradition. In live performance, four of the soloists move from different parts of the hall in a pattern that recreates "imaginíd corners", while one remains ensconced between brass and woodwinds. This is a live recording, so something of this spatial character comes across, though not quite, as vividly as experienced in performance. Traditionally, horns were played in open air settings, "calling" instruments that communicated across distance. In this exuberant piece, the trumpet calls out, answered by the horns in joyous non-harmony.

Anderson is a good enough singer to have participated in the Proms as a chorister, so itís natural that heíd be writing for the genre, which few modern composers appreciate. These four hymns suit Andersonís fondness for mixing simple folk-like forms with sophisticated modern inventiveness. In Bright Morning Star, and At the Fountain, the female soloists have interesting bluesy harmonies, evoking images of black gospel choirs. Beautiful Valley of Youth is particularly interesting as it works like a four-part round, yet the aim isnít so much integration as layering, keeping the SATB quite separate and distinct. Although I had misgivings about Andersonís ambitious work for soloist, orchestra and choir, Heaven is shy of the Earth, at this yearís Proms, (review Prom 32) these smaller, tauter pieces are well thought through and hopefully, will become part of the more adventurous repertoire. Thereís certainly an audience for good new choral work.

Despite its non-committal title, Symphony, too, was inspired by art and nature; in this case Axel Gallen-Kallelaís painting of Lake Keitele. Gallen-Kallela is the best known Finnish painter of his time, and his works will be known to any Sibelius fan. Again it doesnít matter what the picture looks like, this is its spiritual atmosphere. For a full minute, all you can hear are vague sounds, like the rushing of a stream almost at freezing point. Itís wonderfully impressionist Ė you imagine the cold and the stillness, the wind, birds flying overheard. Ultimately, though itís the inventive, multi-layered orchestration that entrances. Flurries of harmony take off in different directions, and melody starts in one part of the orchestra, to be completed in another. Symphony isnít formally divided into parts, but the development is fascinating. Dedicated to Sakari Oramo, who conducts this live performance, itís remarkably vigorous and vivid.

The Book of Hours was an instant success at its London premiere late in 2005, fuelled by the reputation of this earlier performance in Manchester. Itís easy to hear why Ė this is marvellously imaginative, exciting writing. Again, itís inspired by medieval art, in this case the Trés riches heures du Duc de Berry, the famous and highly-coloured masterpiece, illuminated painstakingly by hand and gilded with real gold. That rather describes Andersonís technique, too. Not one slipped note, everything intensely coloured, and enhanced by electronic effects applied at first like fine gold leaf over rich painting. Layers of texture and colour again, deftly applied in careful miniature to create a flamboyant yet deeply satisfying whole. The first part is beautiful, an intricate tracery built around four basic notes. Its exotic textures are interrupted two-thirds of the way through by a strange electronic interlude. Itís not pre recorded but live playing by Lamberto Coccioli and Scott Wilson, and then is supplanted by a simple dance. After a Luftpause, deliberately creating distance from what has gone before, the second part opens with deliberate distortion Ė people who listen for sound will get a shock! Itís the sound of a scratched LP, a reminder perhaps that recorded music is artificial and ephemeral. Then the distortion clears and the music reveals itself again, reborn and even more vivid. Towards the end thereís an apocalyptic electronic cadenza, which fits in with basic ideas in medieval cosmology, such as "the world overturníd". In other words, fate, sudden upheaval, etc, ideas which are strikingly modern in our uncertain modern era. Of course you donít need to know any of this, though Anderson is far too literary a composer not to be aware of this extra dimension. It adds a deeper resonance, linking the Book of Hours to, say, Adèsí America. Then after the chaos, melody emerges yet again, the viola playing another little folk dance. It is a powerful piece, which repays extended listening.

This is a very important recording, which shows why Anderson is so highly regarded. It is to be hoped that NMC, Ondine and other companies will make sure we donít have to wait another five years or so for more.

Anne Ozorio


 



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