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Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

 

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Andreas DOHMEN (b. 1962)
Lautung (2003/4) [16:34]*
Rebecca SAUNDERS (b. 1967)
Miata (2004) [32:14]**
Michel VAN DER AA (b. 1970)
Second Self (2004) [14:25]*
Pierluigi BILLONE (b. 1960)
Mani, de Leonardis, Hands (2004) [15:54] ***
Christian Dierstein (percussionist)***
Neue Vocalsolisten Stuttgart/Roland Kluttig*
SWR Vokalensemble Stuttgart**
SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden Baden und Freiburg/Hans Zender**
rec. live, Donaueschinger Musiktage, October 2004. DDD
COL LEGNO WWE 1CD 20245 [79:09]


The Donaueschinger Musiktage is the oldest festival for new music in the world. Its founders included Ferruccio Busoni, Richard Strauss and Franz Schreker. Among the first composers whose work was premiered there were Berg, Schoenberg, Hindemith, Stravinsky, and Hanns Eisler. After the Second World War, the festival hosted premieres by Cage, Stockhausen, Carter, Berio, Ligeti, Xenakis, Rihm, Nono and Ferneyhough. For nearly 85 years it has represented the cutting edge of new music. What happens there is worth following. This recording features four of the younger composers featured in the most recent festival for which a recording is available.
 
Andreas Dohmen’s Lautung (Pronunciation) for large orchestra with solo voices is an interesting, evanescent piece where individual voices make sounds like solo instruments. Though the orchestra is substantial, the scoring is sparse. Angular shapes stretch out, suddenly terminated by percussion, the voices then recurring unaccompanied. It is a challenge in shifting tempi and volume; at one moment a singer is quietly intoning at the very upper limit of her voice, at another, the orchestra comes crashing in waves over the soloists. Thus, each soloist controls his or her own volume, both vocally and manually; the idea is, as the composer says, to “open up extended dynamic potentials and situations”. The theory is that you don’t know whether they are singing loudly or quietly or whether they are amplifying themselves in concert with the orchestra. I don’t quite understand the effect of this, though it must be very exciting for the soloists themselves to perform with such a strong element of improvisation. Nonetheless, it is an intriguing piece, the pure, clear tones of the singer well contrasted with the clarity of the orchestration. Says Dohmen, there is “tightrope walking everywhere”.
 
There’s a very long written text setting out the ideas behind Rebecca Saunders’ Miniata. It seems to be a meditation on different kinds of redness – cinnabar, and vermilion. She quotes Wassily Kandinsky’s theories on colour, and speaks of “feeling the weight of sound ... being aware of the grit and noise of an instrument, or a voice reminds us of the presence of a fallible physical body behind the sound”. Hence the vibrating resonances that follow loud outbursts on timpani, and the echo of percussion sticks as they clatter across the soundscape, imitated in turn by piano. It is a piece about sensations, huge masses of sound, both instrumental and vocal, building up and turning on a pivot. About half way through, there is a massive crescendo splintering in fragments of fractured sound, transmuted into the vocal equivalent of “white noise”, almost imperceptible variations on a long drawn out sigh. In the final section, sound stretches into silence, murky and still. At 32 minutes, it’s the longest piece on this disc, but somewhat taxing on the listener. The pianist, though is Nicolas Hodges, whose distinctive sense of timing is impeccable.
 
In contrast, Michel van der Aa’s Second Self is relatively manic. A string quartet emerges from the body of the orchestra, acting as an alter ego challenging the orchestra. As the balance of power shifts between the strings and the rest of the orchestra, a third “voice” emerges from a recorded soundtrack. It’s interesting to follow the three “voices” beneath the apparent cacophony, for they are repeating each others figures in different ways. Gradually the orchestra seems to implode, but as it dies, so does the string quartet.
 
A student of Salvatore Sciarinno, Pierluigi Billone picks up on the tradition established by Nono, of using “found” sounds, particularly the sounds of everyday life. Mani is a piece written for automobile strings and glass: ostensibly it sounds like the sounds in a workshop, but infinitely varied and inventive. Mechanical as it may sound, you are very aware that the sounds are not made by machine, but by human hands. When I read Billione’s long description of the purpose of the piece, I laughed aloud, because it was exactly what I’d imagined while listening. He refers to the vibrations that a metalworker experiences while working, and uses his music to explore the sensation for its own sake. “I vibrate with the string and have become part of the instrument ... I am playing on my own body”. When the rhythmic energy becomes unstable, the glass adds a cross-current, remaining clear and stable “like a polestar”. In the middle section, the auto springs sound almost like primeval folk instruments. In the final section, the springs reach a kind of apotheosis, dissolving into abstract sound, the vibrations lingering over silence. From industrial by-product to pure artistic abstraction, this piece ranges across the very landscape of sound. Just as Nono was adamant that artists must not forget their place in the real world, Billone reflects on the idea of sound as a “living and open presence ... that means contact, revelation and belonging.” You use all your faculties when making sound and listening and you connect with others.
 
New music admirers will want this, particularly for Dohmen and Billone.
 
Anne Ozorio
 

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