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Charles WUORINEN (b. 1938)
Cyclops 2000 (2000) [23:29]*
A Reliquary for Igor Stravinsky (1974-5) [17:12]
London Sinfonietta/Oliver Knussen
rec. 16 May 2001, Queen Elizabeth Hall, South Bank Centre, London*; October 1994, Henry Wood Hall, London. DDD
LONDON SINFONIETTA SINFCD4-2006 [40:41]



This performance of Wuorinen’s Reliquary for Igor Stravinsky was previously issued on Deutsche Grammophon DG 447 068-2GH in 1995, when it was coupled with performances of several late Stravinsky works - The Flood, Abraham and Isaac, Variations: Aldous Huxley in Memoriam and the Requiem Canticles, all conducted - very well - by Oliver Knussen. A reliquary is, of course, a container - large or small - for one or more religious relic, a container which is usually a well-made work of art in its own right. The ‘relics’ here consist of musical fragments on which Stravinsky had been at work at the very end of his life; for the most part these were what Wuorinen describes as “hexachordal-rotational arrays of the sort first developed by Krenek in the 1940s and later appropriated by Stravinsky as crucial constructive material for his 12-tone works”.  Wuorinen’s reliquary is arranged in six sections. It begins with the material most closely modelled on Stravinsky’s surviving notes, orchestrated and filled-out in a very passable imitation, thoroughly respectful, of Stravinsky’s last musical idiom. There follows a variation on these materials in a more fully Wuorinen-like manner, interrupted by a powerful ‘Lament’ for solo violin. The fifth movement recapitulates the Stravinskyan materials and the work closes with a short coda. Wuorinen’s use of the orchestra is everywhere vivid and alert, his invention of a high order. This is a work both highly skilled and decidedly moving, effecting the kind of homage which wise composers have always paid to their significant predecessors. Works such as this are an enactment of what the word ‘traditional’ means in the most positive of its many senses. Knussen and the London Sinfonietta are thoroughly at home in this music and this re-release makes available a significant recording of a significant piece. The choreographer Peter Martins later used the music as the basis for a ballet created for New York City Ballet – so it is perhaps with the advantage of hindsight that one is struck by the work’s indebtedness to the patterns of dance – patterns very well brought out in this performance which well predates Martins’ adoption of the music.
 
Cyclops 2000 is presented in a recording of the work’s premiere, given in London in 2000, the work being written to a commission from Risk Publications, a financial publishing and events company in London, on the tenth birthday of its magazine Risk. Cyclops was one of the primordial giants, of whom there was, in Greek mythology, an entire race. The creatures had only one eye and their most famous exemplar was perhaps Polyphemus who appears in Book IX of Homer’s Odyssey, and who imprisons Odysseus and a number of his men, before being outwitted (and blinded) by the cunning ruler of Ithaca. Perhaps not too much of this is directly relevant to Wuorinen’s piece, which is certainly no simple programme music, but the sense of narrative movement, speeding up and slowing like a story in the hands of a good narrator and with a decided ‘twist’ at the end, does seem to be there in the music. Certainly this single movement work, which Wuorinen himself describes as having its “monomaniacal aspect”, has a real sense of scale; its textures are constantly varied, different instruments are allowed temporary prominence as soloists, and there are changing patterns of duetting between individual instruments and between whole sections of instruments, which make for a sense of dialogue which feels more like internal subdivision than an interchange between separate identities. The Cyclops is big, indeed, and for all its ponderous insistence on moving forward in a single direction (“atypically for me”, writes Wuorinen, “the piece has come out in a single constant meter”), it finds room for a network of interacting elements. It is a work which rewards repeated hearings and, like the earlier work, it gets as fully committed and intelligent performance as the high standards of Knussen and the London Sinfonietta have led one to expect in the now almost forty years (astonishingly!) of the orchestra’s existence.
 
Glyn Pursglove

 


 


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