For years, thereís
no major recording of Julian Andersonís
work, and then, in the space of a few
weeks, thereís two! They complement
each other well. The first, Alhambra
featured earlier works. This new recording,
from new music specialists NMC, offers
more recent works. Together, they provide
a good perspective on the work of one
of the more exciting young British composers.
inspired by Brancusiís sculpture ĎThe
Kissí, where two solid figures become
one monolithic whole through their kiss.
Itís obviously not a literal representation.
In this music, viola and cello curl
sensuously around each other, embracing,
so to speak, in melody. The spirit is
passionate, yet austere and simple,
as clean as the lines of Brancusiís
style. As the orchestra takes over,
the melody expands into something much
more open and primeval. Andersonís use
of "medieval" references evokes
the timeless imagery of ancient sculpture.
He uses "hockets", melodies
shared out between two or more instruments,
which create a fluid sense of movement.
It evokes thoughts of medieval part-song,
as well as of the pealing of bells.
The unsteady timbre of non-tempered
tuning adds to the sense of strange
unworldliness. This is the spirit of
Brancusiís sculpture, far better intuited
in this abstract way. It also evokes
the spirit of Eden in the Bible, of
a moment of purity captured forever
in some ancient carving. Anderson marked
the score with the words "come
una musica virginale".
From a transcendentalist
sculptor to a transcendentalist poet,
Anderson moves from Brancusi to Donne.
The title references John Donneís poem
"At the round earths
imagin'd corners, blow
Your trumpets, Angells, and
From death, you numberlesse
Anderson further explores
the potential of non-tempered tuning
in Imaginíd Corners, for five
horns and orchestra. Played without
valves, the horns make a more "natural"
sounding intonation, more like early
music. At once this music verges on
modern atonality while connecting to
a more ancient tradition. In live performance,
four of the soloists move from different
parts of the hall in a pattern that
recreates "imaginíd corners",
while one remains ensconced between
brass and woodwinds. This is a live
recording, so something of this spatial
character comes across, though not quite,
as vividly as experienced in performance.
Traditionally, horns were played in
open air settings, "calling"
instruments that communicated across
distance. In this exuberant piece, the
trumpet calls out, answered by the horns
in joyous non-harmony.
Anderson is a good
enough singer to have participated in
the Proms as a chorister, so itís natural
that heíd be writing for the genre,
which few modern composers appreciate.
These four hymns suit Andersonís fondness
for mixing simple folk-like forms with
sophisticated modern inventiveness.
In Bright Morning Star, and At
the Fountain, the female soloists
have interesting bluesy harmonies, evoking
images of black gospel choirs. Beautiful
Valley of Youth is particularly
interesting as it works like a four-part
round, yet the aim isnít so much integration
as layering, keeping the SATB quite
separate and distinct. Although I had
misgivings about Andersonís ambitious
work for soloist, orchestra and choir,
Heaven is shy of the Earth, at
this yearís Proms, (review
these smaller, tauter pieces are well
thought through and hopefully, will
become part of the more adventurous
repertoire. Thereís certainly an audience
for good new choral work.
Despite its non-committal
title, Symphony, too, was inspired
by art and nature; in this case Axel
Gallen-Kallelaís painting of Lake Keitele.
Gallen-Kallela is the best known Finnish
painter of his time, and his works will
be known to any Sibelius fan. Again
it doesnít matter what the picture looks
like, this is its spiritual atmosphere.
For a full minute, all you can hear
are vague sounds, like the rushing of
a stream almost at freezing point. Itís
wonderfully impressionist Ė you imagine
the cold and the stillness, the wind,
birds flying overheard. Ultimately,
though itís the inventive, multi-layered
orchestration that entrances. Flurries
of harmony take off in different directions,
and melody starts in one part of the
orchestra, to be completed in another.
Symphony isnít formally divided
into parts, but the development is fascinating.
Dedicated to Sakari Oramo, who conducts
this live performance, itís remarkably
vigorous and vivid.
The Book of Hours
was an instant success at its London
premiere late in 2005, fuelled by the
reputation of this earlier performance
in Manchester. Itís easy to hear why
Ė this is marvellously imaginative,
exciting writing. Again, itís inspired
by medieval art, in this case the Trés
riches heures du Duc de Berry, the
famous and highly-coloured masterpiece,
illuminated painstakingly by hand and
gilded with real gold. That rather describes
Andersonís technique, too. Not one slipped
note, everything intensely coloured,
and enhanced by electronic effects applied
at first like fine gold leaf over rich
painting. Layers of texture and colour
again, deftly applied in careful miniature
to create a flamboyant yet deeply satisfying
whole. The first part is beautiful,
an intricate tracery built around four
basic notes. Its exotic textures are
interrupted two-thirds of the way through
by a strange electronic interlude. Itís
not pre recorded but live playing by
Lamberto Coccioli and Scott Wilson,
and then is supplanted by a simple dance.
After a Luftpause, deliberately creating
distance from what has gone before,
the second part opens with deliberate
distortion Ė people who listen for sound
will get a shock! Itís the sound of
a scratched LP, a reminder perhaps that
recorded music is artificial and ephemeral.
Then the distortion clears and the music
reveals itself again, reborn and even
more vivid. Towards the end thereís
an apocalyptic electronic cadenza, which
fits in with basic ideas in medieval
cosmology, such as "the world overturníd".
In other words, fate, sudden upheaval,
etc, ideas which are strikingly modern
in our uncertain modern era. Of course
you donít need to know any of this,
though Anderson is far too literary
a composer not to be aware of this extra
dimension. It adds a deeper resonance,
linking the Book of Hours to,
say, Adèsí America. Then
after the chaos, melody emerges yet
again, the viola playing another little
folk dance. It is a powerful piece,
which repays extended listening.
This is a very important
recording, which shows why Anderson
is so highly regarded. It is to be hoped
that NMC, Ondine and other companies
will make sure we donít have to wait
another five years or so for more.