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Maurice OHANA (1914 - 1992)
Cello Concerto No.2: "in dark and blue" (1990)
TíHarân-Ngô for orchestra (1974)
Piano Concerto (1981)
Sonia Wieder-Atherton (cello)
Jean-Claude Pennetier (piano)
Luxembourg Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Arturo Tamayo
Recorded in Luxembourg Conservatoire 1997
TIMPANI 1C1039 [65:20]
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A little background is needed on Maurice Ohana because, as the detailed but rather partisan notes reiterate, he is "one of the greatest composers" of 20th century music. I cannot forebear to note that the first web source I found on Ohana, my Concise Grove being rather brief, auto-translated his profession "compositeur" as "type-setter!" Ohana was born in Casablanca, Morocco in 1914 and trained as a musician in France. At the outbreak of the Second World War he moved from the Basque country to Rome where he studied with Casella. After discharge from the forces he settled in back in France and commenced a long career as a member of the avant-garde, producing a long list of works which won him many honours and much respect, but, it would seem, not a loyal audience. He died in November 1992. This disc of premieres and a companion reviewed elsewhere seems to be an attempt by his conductor friend Arturo Tamayo and the sleeve note writer, Belgian musicologist Harry Halbreich, to re-establish him to his rightful place in the 20th century hall of fame. So have they succeeded?
The 2nd Cello Concerto of 1990 that starts the disc is a lyrical and impassioned piece. It has moments of delicacy spiced with the occasional microtone. The orchestral part is redolent of Messiaen and Koechlin but seems less radical than either. As noted below one should not be fooled by this! The solo part is clearly challenging to play, including plentiful slides and tremolos. Central to the work is a blues passage (thus the subtitle "in dark and blue"), which integrates very well because the first part has already had hints of jazz style. After this interlude things speed up but the finale is nonetheless predominantly contemplative despite some big climaxes. This concerto is a strong piece and will repay repeated listening I am sure. The cellist Sonia Wieder-Atherton is absolutely superb.
The second piece TíHarân-Ngô for orchestra is exciting to listen to and, like the entire CD is in excellent sound. It is much more radical than the Cello Concerto, in fact I found it typical of the eclectic avant-garde in that one can hear touches of Ligeti, Boulez, Varèse and even Stravinsky (some fat wind chords reminded me of Le Sacre) as well as Messiaen. There are lots of string microtones and mysterious percussion effects, atmospheric stuff which has little to do with the ethnic dances that we are told act as an inspiration. The title Ngô is apparently derived from the dances and instruments including those letters in their names, tango, fandango, bongo. (Iím not making this up!). Half way through, the texture becomes unevenly rhythmic with ear-tickling percussion effects. The piece does not outstay its welcome and is interesting to listen to.
The last piece, the Piano Concerto of 1981, is again more radical than the Cello Concerto. The soloist plays alone to begin with, a slow series of chords. The orchestra plays some unrelated (to my ears) music and then the pianist returns. The combination sounded oddly like a piano solo by Messiaen having wandered into an orchestral accompaniment by Gershwin, but the latter never bursts into tune. The tempo increases, the textures thicken and Ohana brings in a sizeable battery of percussion to enliven the aural palette with various ticks, clangs and hisses. As an exercise in resonance this is interesting to hear. But as music it falls into the plink-plank-plonk school of composition insofar as the ear cannot predict and thus anything goes and any subsequent sounds have to be accepted. Unhelpfully, the whole concerto is on one track so Halbreichís commentary about the four movements canít be followed. Certainly the music itself does not help. The sounds do often tickle the ear and are sometimes beautiful, Ohana can use his orchestra very well. The piece ends with a fairly wild and rhythmic passage, including lots of hitting of things, that could almost come from Turangalîla. It is a virtuoso piece, no doubt. Whether I would wish to hear it twice, is in doubt. And whether Ohana is one of the greatest 20th century composers will depend entirely on your attitude to the avant-garde. If you enjoy Messiaen as light entertainment and listen to Xenakis when your soul needs uplifting then you might agree.
see also review by Hubert Culot
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