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Cristóbal HALFFTER (b.
Odradek (1996) [20:24]
Dortmunder Variationen (1986/7) [18:10]
Tiento del primer tono y battalla imperial (1986)
rec. Hessischer Rundfunk, Sendesaal, Frankfurt am Main, October
WWE 20204 [51:46]
will be seen later in this review, the disc under review
might easily have been titled “Anniversaries”, since each
of these works was written to commemorate some anniversary.
earliest, Tiento del primer tono y batalla imperial (“The
touch of the first note and imperial battle”) was composed
in 1986 as a tribute to Paul Sacher on his 80th birthday.
This short orchestral piece, actually a Prelude and Toccata,
is based on two organ works by Spanish composers: El tiento
del primer tono by Antonio de Cabezón and La batalla
imperial by Juan Bautista José Cabanilles. Halffter does
not set out merely to orchestrate those pieces, even if the
tunes are presented in a fairly straightforward way. The
dignified opening based on the Cabezón is eventually disturbed
by some aggressive dissonances leading into a short bridge
section featuring the well-known Basle drum; cf. Liebermann’s Geigy
Festival Concerto and Honegger’s Fourth Symphony.
This leads straight into the second, dynamic section that
concludes this short homage in sonorous martial tones. An
occasional work but superbly done and one of Halffter’s most
accessible pieces and a brilliant concert-opener.
Variationen were commissioned for the 100th anniversary
of the Dortmund Philharmonic Orchestra, which is why
the piece is based on D, since the name of Dortmund begins
and ends with a D. In spite of its title, the
work has very little to do with any traditional theme
and variations. It has much more to do with a concerto
for orchestra with an overtly festive character but one
which does not exclude “moments of reflection and even
drama” (as the composer puts it). It falls into several
segments highlighting the various orchestral sections.
It opens with brilliant, if at times harsh brass fanfares
leading into quieter interludes abruptly interrupted
by the percussion. A long tutti then leads into a string-dominated
section. The rest of the orchestra joins in for another
dynamic climactic section capped by a restatement of
the opening fanfare which assertively concludes the piece.
Subtitled “Hommage à Franz
Kafka”, Odradek was commissioned by the Czech
Philharmonic for its 100th anniversary. Odradek is
a word of Slavic or German origin meaning “advise against” or “lure
away”. As Kafka himself put it, “the uncertainty of both
interpretations allows one to assume with justice that neither
is accurate, especially as neither of them provides an intelligent
meaning of the word”. Odradek is one of Kafka’s curious
creations in his story Die Sorge des Hausvaters (“The
Cares of a Family Man”), which I have never read. As the
composer tells in his notes, Odradek has human features,
walks on two legs that are not genuine, speaks something
that sounds like a language but is not. The composer leaves
the whole thing to the listener’s imagination. What one hears
is a substantial, colourful orchestral work alternating a
wide range of moods in an almost surreal manner. In this
he avoids pastiche or collage providing a piece that may
be best listened to as purely abstract music. A truly magnificent
Halffter has painstakingly moulded his musical voice over
his long and prolific composing life. His often complex,
meticulously worked-out music retains a strongly communicative
power, which is this composer’s most endearing characteristic.
composer conducts vital readings of his scores and gets a
formidably committed response, which makes this under-filled
release a welcome addition to his discography.
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