‘The Kitchen Sink’; ‘The Hit and Run Accident Department’;
and – my personal favourite – ‘the Thud and Blunder Section’; all these
and more have been used by musicians to poke fun at the percussion section
of the orchestra. One clumsy percussionist I came across was known to
his colleagues as "Lightning" – because he was said to be
unable to strike in the same place twice.
These attitudes – is there such a thing as ‘instrumentism’,
like sexism or ageism? Viola players please comment – are largely a
thing of the past, thanks to groups such as the Kroumata Ensemble, or
individuals like Stomu Yamashta, Evelyn Glennie, and the soloist of
this CD, the brilliant Norwegian Hans-Kristian Kjos Sørensen.
During the past century or so, the percussion section
has not only expanded in size at a startling rate, but has developed
a large solo and ensemble repertoire.
This disc explores some of the music playable by a
solo percussionist, though Kjos Sørensen is a versatile and imaginative
musician, who not only includes improvised work here, but sings on two
of the tracks. These are two little pieces by John Cage, where the voice
is supported solely by percussive sounds made by hitting the case
of a piano. Some of the impact, particularly the surprise element
that Kjos Sørensen describes amusingly in his booklet commentary,
is bound to be lost in an audio-only recording. But the strangely hypnotic
quality of the pieces, with their strong oriental influences, comes
The music on this disc consists of a varied programme
of existing compositions interspersed with three improvisations by Kjos
Sørensen; these are the three Open pieces that give the
CD its title, and they are carefully calculated to follow on from, introduce,
or form a bridge between the other pieces. So the opening piece, Xenakis’s
‘Rebonds’, which is in two contrasted but equally powerful movements,
is followed by the thoughtful, hesitant Open I for marimba. This
acts as a kind of prelude to Hedstrøm’s Flow, a restless
fountain of liquid tone from the marimba.
Donatone’s Omar is, for me, the most striking
(no pun intended) piece in this collection. It is a two-movement work
for vibraphone, a large species of metallophone, with a sustaining pedal
and an electric fan which creates vibrato. In his first movement, Donatone
explores the chiming, explosive sounds the instrument can produce, then
follows this with a mesmerising demonstration of the throbbing effects
of the fan. This is followed by Open II, also for vibraphone,
and drawing strange and beautiful tonal distortions from the instrument.
Rolf Wallin’s Stonewave, which has, I think,
already been recorded on BIS in its ensemble version, is here given
a spectacular solo performance by Kjos Sørensen. His sheer technical
bravura is bracing, and he describes in the booklet his sense of fun
and mischief in performing the work, right down to Donald Duck impersonations!
The whole thing builds up to a thrillingly physical climax, and is a
real tour de force of percussion technique. The concluding Open
III is a gently Phrygian piece, featuring the performer whistling
in unison with his glockenspiel.
In many ways, this CD is an amazing achievement. Kjos
Sørensen is a brilliantly gifted performer, but clearly an imaginative
and creative one too. A very special issue, continuing BIS’s tradition
of opening our minds and our ears.