From the first steam-engine-like chugs
of Differance I, listeners will know that this disc will
not be filled with music that caters to the toe-tapping hummability
of Pops programmes. This release, part of a series of “portrait”
discs from Musiques-Suisses, spotlights the recent output of
Mela Meierhans, who currently has five discs released. The oldest
piece on this disc is only seven years old. Born in Lucerne,
Meierhans has quite a few compositions to her credit. According
to her website, she is currently “Artist in Residence” in Cairo,
researching the next instalment of her Jenseits trilogy.
Differance I is referred to by the composer as a “consultative improvisation”
for large orchestra, to be performed in the dark. Meierhans
states in the excellent liner-notes that the piece is intended
to demonstrate a “kind of indecision; something between active
and passive.” A piece filled with tension, Differance I
does have this element about it, but not at all in the strange
state of suspension that Morton Feldman’s music has. Here we
have a greater sense of unease and even malice.
Differance I, therefore, is a perfect lead-in to Tunnel II,
a work for chamber ensemble, pre-recorded tape, and soprano.
The piece is based on a short story by Friedrich Dürrenmatt,
in which the characters are all on a train that stalls in a
tunnel bored through one of Switzerland’s many mountains. I
won’t give away any details of the story - I’ll say the trip
doesn’t end well - but Tunnel II is downright harrowing,
sure to give cause for pondering well after the piece ends.
The work demands a great deal of flexibility and precision from
the ensemble, which Ensemble Æquatour - themselves the subject
of one of Musiques-Suisses’ portrait series - and Sylvia Nopper
show themselves to great effect here.
The tone lightens somewhat with prelude
and echo, a work based on five poems in English by Anne
Blonstein, a Basel-based poet. Unlike Tunnel II, the
vocalist speaks in undertones or in non-words. Especially striking
is a sombre, ethereal section seven minutes into the piece,
sounding like one of the more pensive moments from Brian Eno’s
Shutov Assembly. Throughout the piece the poems themselves
are minced into bits of sound. The full texts are included,
perhaps to give the listener a sense of what the music used
as a springboard. One particularly telling phrase of Blonstein’s
is in the last section: what words will do in the future/
they wrote. a venue in risk. “Safe” music this isn’t.
Narziss und Echo is described by Meierhans as a piece in which there
is yearning for Identity. In both mythical characters
we have different sides of the same coin; one who is completely
absorbed in the self and the other only able to find expression
in the utterances of others. Of the pieces included on this
disc, this could be considered the one most conventionally “accessible,”
though it departs quite readily from any standard tonality.
With an extremely wide array of voicings, microtonalities, and
glissandi, this is a virtuoso piece, though not in the typical
sense of the word as far as empty flash is concerned. Franco
Tosi gives an electrifying performance.
Overall, this CD’s recording aesthetic,
as well as its exceedingly well-thought-out liner-notes, show
that Musiques-Suisses has kept its interest in presenting Swiss
artists in a high-quality format. This music isn’t for everybody,
and even for those who have interest in avant-garde music, this
might not be everyday listening. This disc and the others in the
series are certainly worth looking into for extremely compelling