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  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Gideon LEWENSOHN (born 1954)
Piano Quintet
Postlude for piano (1992, two versions)
Odradek Quartet
Alexander Lonquich (piano); Ora Rotem Nelken (piano); Auryn Quartet
Recorded: Radio DRS Zürich, February 2001 and Jerusalem Music Centre, July 1997 (second version of Postlude)
ECM New Series 1781 (461 881-2) [76:13]
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The Piano Quartet is actually a suite of five movements conceived as tributes to composers and persons who, in one way or another, may have influenced Lewensohn's musical thinking, though not necessarily his musical style: Kurtag, Rochberg and Shostakovich. The short third movement, is a 'musical toast' to the Hilliard Ensemble. The second movement is a tribute to the composer's brother, a stage director and a lover of jazz. The first movement is written without any bar lines and beams, and moves on fairly freely throughout. In the second movement, the piano part is barred while the string parts are again senza misura. The third movement is some sort of lighter intermezzo with some hints at plainsong. The homage to Rochberg movement is more enigmatic and partly justified by the inclusion of snatches of a waltz tune. The finale is a vigorous Scherzo, redolent of a Shostakovich finale, and ends with a brief quotation from that composer's Fifth Symphony. All this may sound rather eclectic, but it is not. Lewensohn obviously has it his own way, and the music reveals some hallmarks (e.g. string glissandi and ostinati) that, on closer acquaintance, seem to characterise his music.

In the string quartet Odradek, Kurtag's influence may be more clearly evident. All movements (there are fifteen of them) are quite short and neatly characterised. The music is derived from some borrowed material, actually the repeated D that opens Lutoslawski's Cello Concerto and a motif from Josef Tal's Cello Concerto. The former acts as a unifying idée fixe restoring order whenever needed while the latter is varied in highly imaginative, though at times unexpected ways. In the twelfth movement ScotTALissimo Tal's motif is mischievously turned into a ragtime. In the seventh movement reTALango the motif is transformed into a tango. Such dry humour, however, often conceals deeper concerns as in the fourteenth movement Ich grolle doch! (an allusion to Schumann's lied Ich grolle nicht) in which the composer tilts at some of the hideous aspects of past and present day life. This movement is the real emotional core of the work. The quartet is thus a sequence of elusive musical moments, a musical diary of notes jotted down seemingly at random but actually tightly held together in a musically satisfying whole. Incidentally, Odradek is the name of a quite mysterious character mentioned in a fragment by Kafka. "[He] is a worrying presence, yet there is nothing you can say about him." A fairly apt description of Lewensohn's whimsical, but gripping work.

The Postlude for piano of 1992 exists in two versions and both are recorded here. (I confess that the only difference I was able to note is that the first version is shorter.) The piece, as a whole, is a slow processional alla Mahler building up towards a mighty climax and slowly retracing its way back to silence.

Lewensohn is a maverick. His music may be influenced by Kurtag, Lutoslawki, Bartók and - most significantly, I think - by Mahler; but it never sets out to imitate its models. The most remarkable thing is that the composer succeeds in transcending the music of these composers and in creating a very personal sound-world. He obviously has things to say and knows how to say them in a musically satisfying way.

The present release is, once again, ECM at their most imaginative and the production is excellent though the lavishly detailed notes are again conspicuous by the lack of factual information, such as dates of composition of the works. Often intriguing but well worth trying.

Hubert Culot


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