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Emmanuel NUNES (b.1941)
Litanies du feu et de la mer (1969) [24.07]
Litanies du feu et de la mer (1973) [20.51]
Rudolf KELTERBORN (b. 1931)

Piano Pieces 1-6 (2001-4)* [32.44]
See Siang Wong (piano)
rec. Zürich, April 2003, April 2005
*world premiere recording
GUILD GMCD 7318 [76.03]
Experience Classicsonline


Listen to this disc and you’ll hear how beautiful new music can be. Cerebral, yes, but moving and spiritual, too. Emmanuel Nunes is a highly respected cult figure in new music circles. Based primarily in Paris, he’s well known throughout Europe, where his music is known through performance. Since there are relatively few recordings of his work, this disc shouldn’t be missed.

Litanies du feu et de la mer is an early work, but a good starting point. Although the two sections were written a few years apart, they reflect each other, like the parts of a diptych. More duality lies in their imagery: fire and water, opposites that react upon each other. There are moments of great stillness, where single notes hang in the air like droplets of rain, then shatter like a raindrop shatters when it hits a hard surface. Then there are moments when the music is whipped up like a sudden conflagration. This imagery is a perfectly valid point of entry to this music but there’s far more to it.

Nunes was interested in the spatial aspects of sound. With a large orchestra, such ideas can be explored through variations of texture and volume, but this is a piece for solo piano. Yet Nunes coaxes from the piano a dazzling variety of sounds, which heard together really create a sense of space and movement. Flurries of rapid, flickering notes scatter across the keyboard. Single, slowly articulated chords reverberate into silence long after the pianist’s fingers have lifted off. It’s almost as if Nunes wants to hear how long a note can be sustained in space, vibrating in the air. Then there are passages where notes tumble over each other piling up in dense textures at the darkest range of the keyboard, then suddenly break free again, flying back towards higher registers. This is such inventive music, constantly moving and feeling its way. If you like Debussy, and Takemitsu, this is for you.

What’s also interesting is that Nunes wants a performer to experiment, too. He gives a performer opportunities to be spontaneous, to expand the notes and judge the intervals creatively. Obviously, this work needs a pianist who responds intuitively to the pace and to the way repetitions vary and develop. In the Dutch-born pianist, See Siang Wong, he has found just such an interpreter. Wong had been playing the piece for a while, and played it before the composer himself in Zürich in 2000. Hence this recording, by the Swiss label Guild. Wong’s playing is lucid. He understands the way the work evolves, from dominant and upfront to barely audible. The silences when notes fade into stillness are very much part of the composition. Wong also finds in this work great spiritual resonance. He notes that, in Buddhism, "man … contemplates with a calm conscience the time spread out before him … Nunes seems to do this in music". Just as meditation liberates the spirit, Nunes allows the pianist to improve within the basic framework, making the work deeply personal and individual in performance.

Rudolf Kelterborn wrote Trifolium, the first part of the six Piano Pieces for Wong, later expanding it to the six movement unit it is now. It’s the longest segment in the series, and the others grow from it, like the tendrils of a plant. Trifolium means "three-leaved". Cascading triplets branch off and reform in intricate patterns. Wong calls the pieces "aphorisms". Each section has a distinctive atmosphere, for example, the seventh section "Blurred", where the notes are muted and imprecise, blending into each other. Together they form a cycle, like a song-cycle, but without words. The final section, Kontrapunkte, pulls the various threads together, while keeping their contrasting characters. It adds a lively tension. This is the world première recording, and Wong is its dedicatee.

This might not be a recording you’d seek out without knowing who the composers are, or the performer, but it’s definitely worth listening to, particularly for the Nunes.

Anne Ozorio



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