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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



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Andrew FORD (b 1957)

Night and dreams: the Death of Sigmund Freud (1999) [56:41]

Arnold SCHOENBERG (1974–1951)

Ode to Napoleon, op.41 (1942) [15:51]
Gerald English (tenor/narrator), Ingrid Rahlén (backing track playback), Ian Munro (piano), Marshall McGuire (harp), Alice Giles (electroacoustic harp)
London Sinfonietta/David Atherton

rec. April 2000, Studio 256, ABC Ultimo Centre, Sydney, Australia (Ford), December 1973, All Saints’ Church, Petersham, Surrey (Schoenberg) DDD and ADD
DECCA ELOQUENCE 4800461
[72:41] 

 

Experience Classicsonline


Born in Liverpool in 1957, Andrew Ford studied at Lancaster University with Edward Cowie and John Buller, and after graduating, in 1978, he was appointed Fellow in Music at the University of Bradford. Moving to Australia in 1983 he joined the Faculty of Creative Arts at the University of Wollongong. He was composer in residence with the Australian Chamber Orchestra between 1992 and 1994, and after retiring from the halls of academe in 1995 he has presented The Music Show on ABC Radio National every Saturday morning. His catalogue is large and varied, covering all genres from opera to a cappella choral works.
 

With a libretto by Margaret Morgan, Night and dreams: the Death of Sigmund Freud was written for Music Theatre Sydney, and for the voice of Gerald English. Ford told Morgan that "Apart from anything else, Gerald looks like Freud." Later, Morgan wrote, “It wasn't until Gerald had some publicity shots taken, with beard, glasses and a Freudian cigar, that I realised just how uncannily true that was. The logic of the choice of subject soon made itself clear to me: two men profoundly important to their fields, in the centre of the maelstrom of, respectively, social and musical change.” 

Night and Dreams explores the end of Freud’s life, in London in September 1939. Whilst listening to 78 rpm discs of Schubert and radio reports of the Nazis in his homeland, he dreams (this is Freud, remember) of an unidentified naked girl and contemplates his death. All this is reported to his own psychoanalyst – we, the audience. It’s not an easy listen by any means. The piece is very static, Freud musing, sometimes singing, but a lot of the time addressing us. There is little in the music to grab hold of – there’s only three instruments, a piano and two harps, with pre-recorded sounds, but not concrète sounds, this “backing track” consists of recordings of marching Stormtroopers, Neville Chamberlain announcing war with Germany and so on – but yet it’s strangely compelling, gripping even; the libretto carrying everything forward and Ford’s minimal musical intervention, which seems to be some kind of dream-like experience, is always interesting and pertinent. 

It’s a very disturbing experience, and there’s no respite from the fantastic wanderings of Freud’s mind. We’re caught in his reverie, locked in a room with a man, failing at every turn, and seeming to ramble incoherently. The work ends with a 78 rpm disc of Des Baches Wiegenlied from Die Schöne Müllerin and the final sound we hear is the repeating grove of the record. Ewig, ewig? 

This is so unlike anything I have heard by Ford that it came as quite a shock to me. Did I enjoy it? That’s an hard question to answer. Certainly I admire the work as a composition, its form and character, but like it, in the way I like Ford’s Sad Jigs (12005) for string orchestra, A Reel, a Fling and a Ghostly Galliard (String Quartet No.2) (2006), Headlong (2006), for orchestra, or The Unquiet Grave (1997/1998), a concerto for viola and ensemble? No I don’t, and in reality I can’t for it is such a demanding work that without the visual aspect to the piece I feel that I’m missing a lot of the experience of performance. However, I must say that it is an impressive and very important work and with study – not difficult for it doesn’t feel as if you’ve given an hour of your time to the piece – it will become less complicated and more easily accepted. I have to write that anything by Andrew Ford is well worth hearing so please do not be put off by the fact that this is no easy summer afternoon listen, give yourself some time and you’ll get into the music and the drama. It’s good to have this important work available on CD so that we can spend time with it. 

Usually I moan when the main work on a disk is followed by a shorter piece as a filler, and under normal circumstances the Ode to Napoleon is a work which would make me run for the great outdoors and the sounds of nature, but after Ford’s tortured monodrama Schoenberg’s seems like a walk in the park; untroubled and pleasant. The difficulties of this late 12 note work, which utilizes sprechgesang (sung speech) but freer than before – English simply recites the words, but in a dramatic way – seems much easier than it once did. The accompanying piano quintet plays quite expressionistic music, as you’d expect, but this isn’t as complicated as some of this composer’s works – the Violin Concerto or Variations for Orchestra, for instance. 

Anyone with an interest in the music of our time will welcome this disk, as I do, and it is well worth the small investment. The recordings are very good and you would never realise, from the sound, that the two works were recorded 27 years apart, except for the fact that English does sound very young in the Schoenberg. Excellent, and very compelling, performances, with good notes in the booklet by Ford himself.

Bob Briggs


 


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